The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people by police officers and racist vigilantes attest the need for systemic change and solidarity in the fight for justice and equity for Black communities. The Quixote Center stands in solidarity and friendship with Black communities and the Black Lives Matter movement.
As a multi-issue social justice organization, the Quixote Center aims to bring about lasting systemic change. Confronting racial injustice in the United States and elsewhere requires action that undercuts the material bases of oppression. We call for and support campaigns that seek to defund police departments, eliminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement, end the detention of migrants and seek the abolition of prisons. Funds used to police and incarcerate should instead be directed toward building sustainable communities.
We support in an unqualified way the right of those who are engaged in protest actions in response to injustice, particularly racism, at this time. The harm to human life, disproportionately to the Black community, brought about by state violence and persistent institutional racism, must end.
For those who are unable or do not feel it would be prudent to participate in mass mobilizations at this time for health reasons – particularly in light of the global pandemic – there are other ways to support the cause of racial justice.
For those who would like to learn more about anti-racism work, you can start here.
For those who want to get engaged in movement activities, the Movement for Black Lives has a list of ideas for actions, coded for degrees of risk, connected to themes that have animated the ongoing week of action.
For those who want to support protesters in the streets from their homes, here are some ideas.
For those who want to donate to black-led organizations working directly on questions of racial justice, here are just a few to get started:
Black Lives Matter– Founded in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, BLM is an international organization whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.
Minnesota Freedom Fund– Community-based nonprofit that pays criminal bail & immigration bonds for individuals who have been arrested while protesting police brutality.
Movement for Black Lives – created as a space for Black organizations across the country to debate and discuss the current political conditions, develop shared assessments of what political interventions were necessary in order to achieve key policy, cultural and political wins, convene organizational leadership in order to debate and co-create a shared movement wide strategy.
Black Visions Collective– A black, trans & queer-led organization that is committed to dismantling systems of oppression & violence, & shifting the public narrative to create transformative long-term change.
Campaign Zero– online platform & organization that utilizes research-based policy solutions to end police brutality in America.
Geri Lanham works with our partners based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepin, Haiti (just outside of Gros Morne). She offers an update below on the current situation in the area, which has not yet had a confirmed case – though cases are getting closer. The community is nevertheless feeling the impact of the pandemic on everything from school schedules to food prices. Included are photos from our emergency seed distribution, ongoing as the rains have begun. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts – Tom Ricker
In Gros Morne we do not yet have a confirmed case of covid-19, but people are feeling the impact of the global pandemic. Community organizations created handwashing stations out of buckets and spigots, and placed them along the main streets in town. Local bank branches were some of the earliest adopters of covid prevention measures like washing hands and wearing facemasks, and they are now employing social distancing so that people can continue to utilize their vital services in this cash based society. Since many family members who went abroad now find themselves out of work, remittances are down for families back home in Haiti. Since the president officially closed the borders in a country where imports make up a large portion of the goods in the market, it has been more complicated to supply basic goods via the new guidelines of who and what can enter the territory.
Many Haitians who entered the Dominican Republic for work in the past few months have made the decision to return to Haiti since the health crisis lockdown has been more severe across the border. Thousands of them have returned via irregular border crossings, which means that very few of them have gone into quarantine. Since there are over 10,000 confirmed cases in the Dominican Republic, this unregulated population of returnees poses a risk to the fragile healthcare system, especially since some of them are returning to the countryside to places like Gros Morne where healthcare resources are ill-equipped to manage an outbreak of covid-19. Thanks to community education campaigns, people here have tentatively begun to wear locally-made reusable cloth face masks, although practicing social distancing is practically impossible in the stressed parameters of the large local market and on public transport.
As the exchange rate continues to rise north of 100 Haitian gourde to 1 US dollar, everyone is feeling the pressure of decreased purchasing power in the local markets. School teachers who have been out of work since 20 March are struggling to provide basic food for their families. Prices for basic goods like a bag of rice increase weekly, at a time when fewer and fewer families have the economic capacity to buy in bulk for a discounted price. Basic monthly provisions of rice, beans and oil now cost the equivalent of $50 USD. For teachers who were making about $100 USD per month, they now have to spend 50% of their income on basic food. and that does not include any spices or vegetables.
Many families, especially in the countryside, rely at least partially upon income from their gardens to support their families. As a result of global climate change, the seasonal rains were slow to come this year. That means that the spring planting season was pushed back a few weeks in Gros Morne, which in turn increases the weeks of hunger that families will have to endure between planting and harvest. And this year the rains started and then promptly became irregular to the point that farmers who planted at the first rain lost some of their crop if they were not able to provide an alternate water source for irrigation of their fields.
Schools have been closed for over 2 months. After the president announced that the schools and churches would remain closed until at least 20 July, the Ministry of Education presented a plan that would see schools opening at the beginning of August or the beginning of September, depending upon how the situation develops or deteriorates in the next few months. Due to a lack of access to regular electricity, it has been a challenge to support distance learning initiatives. Some schools have been able to take advantage of whatsapp, google classroom, and other technology to enable them to continue to provide classroom content for their students, but they are very much in the minority.
In Gros Morne, we are launching a series of courses on the radio intended for secondary school students. The Ministry of Education maintains that once the students have returned to school, they will take official state exams after about 50 days of classroom instruction. Somehow during that time they are supposed to absorb, process, and comprehend the content that they were supposed to cover over the course of the more than 100 days of instruction they have missed this academic year between the locked country political debacle and now the coronavirus crisis. The math does not seem to add up, but the schools have to do something to salvage this academic year. Due to lack of electricity, it will be impossible to reach 100% of the students, but for those who are able to tune in this will at least provide a starting point as we start to look toward the future that will at some point involve classroom learning again.
There is a sense of being in a holding pattern that involves suffering no matter what. People are trying to be responsible and take precautions to protect themselves and their families from contracting covid-19. But as they attempt to do this, they do not have much support, if any, from the state or other sources to enable them to provide the basics for their families. Students are suffering as they must sit and home and wait for the education structure to welcome them back to class, and parents are suffering as they must venture out to provide for their families while they know the risk and the lack of medical services if they do get sick. What little they are able to do still equals the current reality of families who are suffering from hunger and lack of resources in the midst of a pandemic.
In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none. Stokely Carmichael
Last week the United States government deported 150 people to India, among them were 76 people from Haryana State. Upon arrival 22 of those people tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday of this week, the United States deported 30 people to Haiti. Eight of those people tested positive while in detention in the U.S. in late April or early May. None of them had been retested before being put on a flight. As I write now, those deported are being quarantined and retested in Haiti – where access to tests is in short supply.
On Sunday, May 24 Santiago Baten-Oxlaj died after being detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. He was the third person to die in the last three weeks with COVID-19. Like the other two to die, Oscar López Acosta, and Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, he was facing “criminal removal,” meaning he had committed a crime in the United States, completed a sentence in a U.S. jail or prison for that crime, and was then picked up by ICE to be deported. The “crimes” that led to months-long detention, and ultimately death for these three men, were a conviction for drunk driving, years old drug possession charges, and crossing the border without papers for a second time. Certainly, they had done nothing to warrant a death sentence, which the 25,911 people in detention as of May 23rd are now facing. They should all, I repeat, ALL, be released to shelter in place with family. For those who don’t have family, there are community sponsors lined up to assist. This must be done now. We’re basically out of time.
ICE has tested about 10% of the people in custody – 52% of those tested, 1,392 people as of May 29, have tested positive. Despite months of warning, ICE has done next to nothing to change its procedures. They have provided almost no protective equipment. Indeed, two men working for a private contractor in a Monroe, Louisiana facility, where staff were told not to wear face masks, are now dead. ICE has continued to move people around from facility to facility within the United States. Even those they know have COVID-19. They have continued to deport people – from these facilities, to countries around the world.
In the process, ICE is confirmed to have deported people with COVID-19 to Haiti, Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, India and Guatemala. ICE has very likely sent people with coronavirus to Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras and El Salvador, as well, and possibly even Nicaragua, which sees very few deportations, but did have a flight last week that originated from the Alexandria, Louisiana Staging Facility – the site of the worst staff COVID-19 outbreak in the system. ICE has done such a bad job at containing the virus within its detention facilities, that it is becoming impossible for them to put together a flight without people who have been exposed. They are supposedly testing more under pressure from recipient countries, but can’t even do that right. In the last two weeks, ten people arrived in Guatemala with COVID-19 on deportation flights after ICE assured the government that all had been tested. This was at least the fourth deportation flight to Guatemala that included people testing positive for COVID-19 upon arrival. The president of Guatemala suspended flights from the U.S. for the third time last week, and was, for the first time, publicly critical of the U.S. government for showing such disrespect to his country.
The next day, the United States deported 25 children to Guatemala anyway.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement was already a pretty unpopular agency before COVID-19. Thus far, in the context of a global pandemic, ICE has conducted itself with a “callous indifference” to the conditions of the people in its custody. It is not a secret, of course, and so, ICE’s non-handling of containment related to COVID-19, the deaths in custody, and the absurdity of not just deporting people, but strong arming governments critical of the practice, have all resulted in criticisms far and wide. From members of Congress, to the editorial boards of major newspapers and foreign leaders – people have spoken out to halt deportations and drastically reduce the number of people in detention. Nothing has changed.
As the quote above suggests, it is nearly impossible to tweak the conscience of people who have none. That is the situation we are facing with immigration enforcement in this country. The people responsible are indifferent to the consequences of their practices. Checks and balances are not working. The administration simply refuses to answer questions, or lies to Congress with impunity. Federal courts are the one venue where practices have been challenged successfully, but upon appeal, the Supreme Court has sided with the Trump administration more often than not.
So, how to shame the shameless?
You can’t. You can’t reason with people who have constructed a highly profitable immigration gulag out of lies and misinformation. And you can’t stop them from putting all of our lives at risk by failing to enforce the most basic health precautions against COVID-19. They do not care.
What can we do? We can out maneuver them. First, while the national scene seems hopeless, at the local level people are winning fights, getting people released, and moving local, county and even state governments to push back against the ICE enforcement machine. The people in power in D.C. will not be there forever, and to dismantle what they have wrought we will need a vocal constituency to keep up the pressure once they are gone. Local action builds that national constituency one campaign at a time. Check out the #FreeThemAll campaign for connections.
Second, there is the creation of a parallel infrastructure. There now exists an expansive ecosystem of support for migrant communities in this country – from a national network of community bail funds, to shelters, to sanctuary churches and sanctuary cities providing a wide range of services. The government cannot really touch these things. The folks in the White House can complain, demonize and misinform, and curtail state support where it exists. But they can’t stop this process.
Finally, in all of this work there are efforts to build out. The immigration rights movement is significant – and has grown tremendously as a result of Trump’s all out war against immigrants. That said, we can’t win alone. In freeing people from detention, we build common cause with the prison abolition movement. In organizing to support immigrant workers fighting wage theft and abuse in the workplace, we reach out to labor organizers. Together we all can fight climate change – a major driver behind forced displacement, and we must speak out against the brutality of war and our government’s foreign policy more generally that contributes to forced displacement and bankrupts us here at home.
I don’t honestly care one bit what Trump thinks at night when alone, or whether he regrets the cruelty he has sought to normalize for political gain. I doubt such self-reflection is possible for him. What keeps me up at night is thinking about how to make his point of view irrelevant. We might not find a conscience there to tweak, but we do outnumber them. Let’s not ever forget that and work together to make the world we want to see.
Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ~George Orwell
In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. ~Donald Trump, April 20, 2020
I read the news today, oh boy. ~John Lennon
In 1946, George Orwell wrote the essay “Politics and the English Language.” Of particular concern in this essay was what Orwell portrayed as a general decline in the English language, evident in the use of unimaginative metaphors, pretentious diction, extraneous verbs and other operators, and, finally, what he simply calls the use of “meaningless” words. Orwell argues that the general decline in language is both a cause and effect of environmental factors. In his words, language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
Orwell’s particular target was political language, which is constantly deployed to “defend the indefensible.” He writes, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.”
The manner in which language is used to conceal more than to reveal in the hands of politicians, political commentators and even politically engaged “everyday people” was hardly a new concern, even in 1946. Whether the English language has suffered a general decline is not precisely an empirical question, of course, but if we agree that political language was in a sorry state of affairs in 1946, abused as it was to deflect attention away from the brutality of war and conquest, it is not a huge leap to suggest the language of politics has continued to devolve. Political language has become inherently untruthful. Indeed, we hardly expect honesty at all from our political class any more (beyond what can be defended from our own “standpoint”). The result is brutality, which if commented on at all, is veiled in lies.
The Invisible Enemy
The segue from this general observation to the Trump administration is not a difficult one. Trump is known to lie pretty much continuously. When he tries to tell a version of the truth, he is often wrong, or minimally, confused about the details. And yet, his administration has been the fulcrum employed to engineer a massive redistribution of wealth – to the wealthy – while gutting every regulatory regime that existed prior to January of 2017. Alongside these activities, his administration has employed a hyper-nationalistic narrative to turn an already brutal immigration system into one of abject cruelty. This brutality has evolved over the years behind consistent use of terms like “criminal alien” and “illegals” (one hardly needs to ask who “illegal” refers to anymore). Justified by this rhetorical twist that turns migration into a crime, the United States has built the largest immigration jail network in the world. Most of the people trapped in this system have committed no crimes, of course, but the language of criminality works here as it works in domestic “criminal” justice to dehumanize.
This network of immigrant jails and the mechanics of removal enfolds otherwise disparate institutions and interests, from thousands of private companies to dozens of county and local police agencies, alongside the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country, into a constituency with a material commitment to maintaining the detention and deportation machine. If there is any doubt about this publicly-funded commitment to profit from the pain of migrants, one need merely look at how the last two months have played out. From the standpoint of reason and public health, detention centers would have been cleared and deportations halted. Border controls, unavoidable in such times, would have been crafted in a way that maximized the provision of health services to migrants (and all of us!) — as it is no one’s human interest to leave people uncared for in the face of a pandemic that is indifferent to the borders we draw around our otherwise imagined communities.
But Trump is not operating from the standpoint of reason nor concern for public health. Unable to even say COVID-19, Trump’s team has sacrificed thousands in order to capitalize on brutality in the fight against the “invisible enemy.” Since early March, the Trump administration has fought against humanitarian releases from detention facilities, has continued to deport thousands of people from those detention facilities to countries around the world, and has engineered a public health crisis at the U.S./Mexico border out of sheer indifference to the human suffering these policies mean for tens of thousands of people.
“Committed to Health and Welfare”
On Sunday, May 17, 2020, Choung Woong Ahn took his own life at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, California. Ahn was 74 years old and a diabetic. ICE had refused to release Ahn on bond after multiple appeals from family and attorneys since the time he was taken into custody in February. Ahn was a permanent resident. He had been convicted of attempted murder in 2013 and was taken into custody by ICE after he had completed his sentence earlier this year. Given his age and health conditions, there seems little reason to have kept him detained. His crime made him deportable, but he had already served his sentence. If he were a U.S. citizen, he would simply have been sent home. Had he been permitted bond, and allowed to wait for his hearing with family members, he would still be alive.
In the press release announcing the death of Choung Woong Ahn, ICE included this statement: “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody.” If this was remotely true, the people in ICE’s custody would mostly be released. Certainly, they would have been released in the face of a global pandemic. ICE, when pressed, will claim that immigrant detention is civil detention and not intended to be punitive. This is true – legally speaking. And yet behind the prison walls where ICE detains people, those people are brutalized, emotionally scarred, physically scarred and in too many cases, whatever the ultimate outcome of their cases, suffer what will become lifelong trauma as a result. Many take their own lives. Ahn was not the first to do so this year. And sadly, he won’t be the last. We can expect such human losses until the detention machine is shut down.
Overall, Ahn was the eleventh person to die in ICE custody since the fiscal year began on October 1, 2019, and the third person this month. This is the highest annual total of deaths in ICE custody in a long time, and we are only half-way through the year. As a sign that things are about to get far worse, the other two deaths in May were due to COVID-19. As of May 19, ICE reported that 1,145 people in custody have tested positive for COVID-19. Since ICE has only tested 2,194 of the 26,660 people currently being held, the actual number is surely much higher.
The first person to die in ICE custody as a result of COVID-19 was Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejía. Carlos was born in El Salvador and he fled that country as a child with his mother and sister after his brother was killed during the civil war in 1980. He had lived in the United States for 40 years. Like many people who live in the shadow of trauma, Carlos struggled with addiction and one result was a number of arrests for possession and a DUI. For these offenses, he served sentences like anyone else, and yet, under Clinton-era laws, the convictions made him deportable. With a removal order in place, Carlos was placed in detention at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility after being stopped at a check-point by Border Patrol in January of this year. Carlos also had diabetes severe enough that an injury to one of his feet several years ago led to its amputation. In a wheelchair, diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes, he should have never been detained at all while awaiting his hearings — and certainly should have been released with humanitarian parole once the threat of COVID-19 was apparent. Instead, he was incarcerated. He contracted COVID-19 in detention and died on May 6 after being transferred to a medical facility for treatment.
After forcing Carlos into detention, delaying testing and treatment for COVID-19 until he was very ill, (and in the process exposing many of the people detained with him to the disease as well), ICE also wrote in the release about his death, “ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody.” ICE’s expressed concern for the people in its custody has to be set alongside the tomes of affidavits, reports and inspector general findings that testify to the contrary. Against this wealth of evidence of abuse, denial and/or serious delay in the provision of health services, ICE’s boilerplate expressions of commitment ring hollow. More importantly, what this means is that ICE was unprepared for COVID-19, and, per its track record in dealing with other outbreaks of communicable diseases, ICE has altered its operations only minimally in response to the crisis. For example, in a May 14 letter to ICE director Matthew Albence, congressional leaders wanted to know why…
At the Otay Mesa facility, Marciela Ortiz was assigned with 15 other women to begin working in the kitchen, the same workspace where another detainee had tested positive for the virus. Within days, Ms. Ortiz and other women on the kitchen detail began experiencing coronavirus symptoms. When Ms. Ortiz sought help, she was told to walk around and take a shower. Ms. Ortiz and others with symptoms were left in the general population rather than being isolated. Ms. Ortiz was not able to get tested for coronavirus until after she was released on bond. She tested positive.
Members of the House Oversight and Civil Rights committees have written three letters to Albence demanding answers about scenarios like this since April. They are still waiting. Meanwhile, people keep getting sick.
Óscar López Acosta was born in Honduras. He had been charged for irregular re-entry, having crossed the border after being deported in 2009 and again in 2012. Rather than simply plead out, however, Óscar fought the charge and was held in pre-trial detention for months. In May of 2019, he was released from federal prison after a judge sentenced him to time served for the re-entry charge. Rather than get released, however, he was transferred back into ICE custody, where he remained for another year. On April 24 of this year, after it was confirmed that another person detained with him (and dozens of other people) had tested positive for COVID-19, he was released from Morrow County Jail. Oscar himself tested positive on May 3, and died of complications from the disease on May 17. He should have never been detained. Óscar López Acosta also had diabetes, and ICE knew this. During his trial for irregular re-entry in January of 2019, he went into diabetic shock after jailers forgot to give him his insulin injection. There was no purpose to his detention to begin with, and given his risk factors, he should have certainly been released much sooner. Now he is dead.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled in Fraihat v ICE, that ICE must undertake a mandatory review of everyone in its custody that is at high risk if exposed to COVID-19 and release more people. In making this ruling, the judge noted that ICE had utterly failed to adopt practices consistent with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. He wrote that ICE’s “systemwide inaction” has “likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing” of ICE detainees. It is worth noting that two guards, Carl Lenard and Stanton Johnson, are also among those who have died after contracting Covid-19 in ICE detention facilities. Both worked for Lasalle Corrections at the Richwood facility in Monroe, Louisiana. They, and others working in the facility, had been directed not to wear face masks.
Throughout this system of detention facilities ICE claims 44 people who work for them are confirmed positive for COVID-19. However, ICE does not report on the people employed by contractors. Carl Lenard and Stanton Johnson were never included in this count. So, again, ICE is engaged in spreading serious misinformation about conditions in detention facilities. Of the cases ICE will claim, the facility with the worst outbreak among staff is in Alexandria, Louisiana. This facility is one of several staging facilities used by ICE Air Operations for deportation flights. 15 people have been confirmed positive at this facility.
Over 100 people who have been deported through the same facility over the last month have tested positive once they returned home to Guatemala, Haiti, and Colombia. They may or may not have contracted the disease in Alexandria. They could have gotten it anywhere in ICE’s network of detention facilities. Why? Because ICE continues to transfer people within its network, carelessly spreading the disease by taking people from facilities with high infection rates and transferring them to facilities where there were none. For example, an outbreak at Prairieland, Texas was traced back to a transfer of people from hard hit detention facilities in the Northeast. When ICE was told by a federal judge to reduce crowding in facilities in South Florida – they simply transferred people. The result was an increase in cases at the Broward Transitional Facility from 3 confirmed to 19 over the weekend. All 16 of the new cases were among people transferred from the Krome detention center in Miami.
Under such conditions, ICE’s decision to continue with deportations demonstrates the “callous indifference” with which it views not only the people in custody but the communities from which they originate. The number of people held in ICE detention facilities has fallen from just over 38,000 in March to 26,660 as of May 16. Most of this decline is the result of continuing deportations while book-ins to ICE facilities have fallen off. In March, 20,000 people were booked into ICE detention facilities as a result of border arrests and internal removal operations. That fell to 8,500 in April, and 3,900 through the first half of May. Humanitarian releases have been relatively few and far between, as ICE has fought every effort in court to gain release of people. At the same time, ICE has continued to deport thousands of people.
Using flight information retrieved from FlightAware’s database, Jake Johnston with the Center for Economic and Policy Research has documented 273 likely deportation flights to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean since February 3, 2020. While the pace of flights has slowed somewhat over this time period compared to recent years, it is still an astounding number. Almost all of the destination airports for ICE charters are otherwise closed to international commercial flights, as countries seek to restrict travel and contain the spread of COVID-19. The efforts of governments in Guatemala and Haiti, in particular, to stop deportation flights after people have arrived testing positive, have only resulted in vague promises from ICE that they will be more careful, and pressure from the Trump administration, which threatened to sanction any country that refuses to accept deportation flights. And so ICE’s “callous indifference” to the people in its custody is now the world’s problem as well.
In addition to these deportation flights, 21,000 migrants have been pushed out of the United States into Mexico since mid-March as the Trump administration has used its war against the “invisible enemy” to shut the border. In reality, Trump’s administration has been trying to shut the border to asylum seekers and other immigrants since he took office. Currently, under the guise of a CDC order on restricting border crossings, people seeking asylum at the southern border are denied any hearing. They are simply deported back to Mexico. Many of those from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are then picked up by Mexico’s immigration authorities, and bused to Mexico’s southern border. There they may be detained, deported, or released with temporary papers. The CDC order that Trump is using to justify this policy was extended indefinitely on May 19.
Others so removed join the tens of thousands of refugees already crowded into towns along the Mexico-U.S. border who have been waiting, in some cases over a year, for a chance to have their asylum cases heard by a U.S. immigration judge. The hearings they are waiting for have been suspended. The people jammed into border camps, overcrowded shelters, or scratching out a living in the streets of Tijuana, Matamoros and Ciudad Juarez are the unfortunate “beneficiaries” of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols.
The impact of this policy has already been devastating. 57,000 people forcibly returned to Mexico over the last year to wait, with only a handful receiving asylum through immigration hearings that are a farce. With the border closure and summary expulsion of asylum seekers and others, the situation becomes more overcrowded, unhealthy and uncertain. This week, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune released a report on the impact of these border policies on children. The opening story is of two sisters, ages 8 and 11, who crossed the border at Brownsville after their father disappeared in Matamoros. The family had been waiting for a year for their hearing under the MPP. Instead of reuniting the girls with their mother, who is living in the US, they were held for two months by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, at which point ICE declared their intent to deport them back to El Salvador. As the result of a last-minute appeal, they were reunited with their mother, and are allowed to stay…for now. Other kids have not been so lucky. 1,000 unaccompanied minors have been summarily expelled at the border under the CDC order since mid-March.
“All I want is the truth”
The Trump administration’s approach to COVID-19 has clearly been to deflect attention and thus responsibility for its own very botched efforts to take the looming crisis seriously back in January and February, when concerted actions might have made a huge difference. In deflecting blame, Trump has rolled out a whole barrage of nonsense, from endorsing conspiracy theories, to popping hydroxychloroquine, to blaming China and Obama. Accompanying the nonsense has been a quieter war on people whose only “crime” is being non-citizens of the United States. On the frontlines of this war, people are also dying.
While the United States will struggle, perhaps for years, to reverse the damage done by the last two months of crisis, there are fairly simple and reasonable things that can be done today: Allow people to leave detention facilities in this country, reinstate asylum at the border, accompanied by health screening and care, and stop deportations. Aside from boosting capacity to screen and care for people at the border, none of these things really cost money. Indeed, a moratorium on detentions and deportations would save millions. More importantly, these steps would save lives and reduce the chances of infections for everyone.
There are efforts afoot to address all of this. We are facing an uphill battle to be sure, but you can weigh in and get involved. Here are a few of the efforts that are already under way:
Detention Watch Network, of which the Quixote Center is a member, issued the following call for a National Day of Action today related to the #FreeThenAll campaign. Take a look and do what you can!! Peace, Tom
Dear DWN community,
Today, Detention Watch Network (DWN) and communities across the country are joining in a national day of action to call on our elected officials to demand ICE release all people from immigration detention now.
Your governor, mayor, members of Congress, city council members and more need to hear from you.With your influence, they can be moved to call for people to be released from detention and pressure ICE to act. We need the people who represent us to stand up for the health and freedom of people in immigration detention and demand to #FreeThemAll now.
Today’s action will be the first in series of national days of action to #FreeThemAll as we continue to raise our voices and escalate the call to get all people out of detention now.
How to Take Action:
Pressure your elected official. Using this sample template, send an email to your elected official calling on them to demand your ICE Field Office Director release people from detention. Make sure to attach this sample letter to your email for your elected official to send to your ICE Field Office Director. Not sure who your ICE Field Office Director is? Find them here.
On Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed three people from a deportation flight to Haiti once it was made public that the individuals had tested positive for COVID-19 and that ICE intended to deport them anyway. Of course, the other 97 people on the flight were likely exposed to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while in detention within the United States, as ICE has failed to take steps necessary to protect people in detention, and has refused to implement judicial orders to release people at risk more quickly. Releases are happening, but very slowly.
All of those deported were subjected to further testing and possible quarantine upon their return to Haiti. The people being deported also face a growing backlash, one seen in Guatemala and elsewhere, as people fear that those who have been deported from the United States are spreading the disease. Through no fault of their own they have become targets of ostracization and even threats of violence upon return.
Representative Frederica Wilson introduced legislation yesterday calling for the suspension of all deportation of Haitians until the pandemic is brought under control. The “Haiti Deportation Relief Act” comments on the bill:
“Deporting people to Haiti in the midst of a global pandemic is both inhumane and unsafe. Continuing these flights will likely contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus in the impoverished nation where many people do not have access to basic health care,” said Congresswoman Wilson. “That is tantamount to a death sentence for Haitians who are living with compromised water and sanitation systems and do not have access to the sanitation measures we’ve undertaken in the United States.”
“ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s) continues to deport people in the midst of a global pandemic and risks contributing to the spread of COVID-19. We simply should not be deporting anyone who has been in an affected facility, nor to countries such as Haiti that may struggle to respond to an outbreak,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the Committee on Homeland Security. “I applaud Representative Wilson for her advocacy, and I am proud to join my colleagues in calling for deportation flights to be halted.”
“The Trump administration’s decision to continue deporting Haitians during a global pandemic is irresponsible and cruel. Even before the pandemic, Haiti faced a significant political and economic crisis,” said Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. “These deportations are indefensible and must be halted immediately. I commend Representative Wilson for this crucial legislation.”
Meanwhile, deportation flights continue. Legislation to end all deportations for the duration of this crisis is needed. Though we know such an effort faces an uphill, perhaps impossible, battle in the Senate (and would not be that easy even in the House), it still seems a fight worth pressing for.
What comes after COVID-19? I think it depends on what we load into our arks right now. We have all heard the Capital One ad, “What’s in your wallet?” Today, I’d ask, “What’s in your ark?”
As we struggle through the uncertainties of “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders, questions about the usefulness of masks or the accuracy of tests for virus or antibodies, disagreements about when it will be safe to “open up” again, and the endless search for hand sanitizer and toilet paper, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there will be a world that exists after this deluge, after this cataclysmic flood of disease and disruption.
There will be life after COVID-19, and it will be different in ways we cannot fully imagine. I recently said to a friend that I felt like we were all in our individual arks waiting for the waters to subside. But when I thought about it later, I realized that was wrong. Not everyone has an ark. Not everyone has a way to ride out the flood. Not everyone is going to make it to the other side.
As if the life-threatening virus weren’t enough, the scale of the financial disruption caused by the COVID-19 emergency and actions to control it is mind-boggling. It is harder to keep up with unemployment numbers than with numbers of people infected with COVID-19. People who live paycheck to paycheck have, in many cases, not had paychecks for a long time. Some of them line up in auto queues miles long to get groceries from food banks. They struggle for days to complete applications for unemployment insurance on overloaded websites. They try to figure out how to pay the mortgage or the rent with no income.
And the financial stress exists for organizations as well as individuals. Restaurants and retail businesses are closed but still have expenses to pay. Nonprofit organizations that depend on donations are seeing their income streams slow to a trickle. Educational institutions are wondering how they can continue programs in the face of restrictions on in-person instruction. Small presses try to find a way to promote new authors without the traditional book tours and public readings they have used in the past. Museums, concert halls, and theaters lock their doors and lay off their staff. Farms that usually sell to restaurants or processing plants have no market for their goods. Not all of these organizations will survive the COVID-19 emergency. Not all of them will be there when this is over.
It has been proposed that the COVID-19 pandemic is an “apocalypse” in the original sense of the Greek term– something that uncovers or reveals things that have been hidden. The structural inequalities and injustices revealed can fill another blog post – or dozens of them – but for now it suffices to say that one thing that has been clearly revealed is the difference between the “haves” and “have nots” in American society. Some of us find that we have an “ark”, or the wherewithal to build one, to ride out the flood. If we look around, we see that many others do not. So it seems to me that those of us who have the luxury of having our own personal “ark”–a place to live, a fairly stable income that has not been destroyed by COVID-19, or maybe some savings to tide us over–are going to have to take the people and organizations we care about onto our own ark to give them a chance to survive. And we’ll have to do it now–“after this is over” will be too late.
I’ve been thinking about who I need to try to bring onto my ark and how I can do it. The little Greek and Italian restaurant down the street–the neighborhood wouldn’t be the same without it! I need to order takeout more than ever now if I want the restaurant to be around long enough to open up again. Organizations that I have supported for years that help people have a place to live, food to eat, legal representation, and medical care–I’ll need to increase my donations to make up for those that are lost because other donors have lost jobs. Of course, the rescue organization that gave me my two sweet feline companions– I’m sure there are still feral cats and kittens looking for a home, but their donations may be down. And some young folks I know who have lost their income could probably use a cash gift to stay afloat–I don’t expect they would tell me, so I’ll have to ask them or just make an early Christmas gift. The tenants in my rental properties–they could probably use a rent holiday in April and May. . . and maybe June too. The farm couple who used to have an organic CSA but recently were selling at farmers’ markets, now all closed–we’d better order boxes to be delivered. My ark isn’t huge, but I can make space for a few guests.
And because injustice is one thing that will probably have no trouble surviving the COVID-19 emergency, I’ll want the Quixote Center to be there on the other side, so they’re on my ark too. No one can know for sure what the future will look like, but I doubt the landscape will be changed for the better. Haiti and Nicaragua will still have the lowest per capita incomes in the Western Hemisphere, with lack of housing and food insecurity as major problems. Migrants and refugees will still face danger, desperate need, and a sometimes harsh receptions as they make their way to the freedom and security they hope to find in the United States or elsewhere. And institutionalized injustices in our own country will still be crying out for change. Yes, I had better find room on the ark for some knights errant–I wouldn’t want the species to become extinct.
How are you surviving this flood? If your own personal ark has developed some leaks on the rocks of the economy lately, please let people who care about you know. There will be ark repairs available or invitations onto ark accommodations of a friend if someone knows you need them. On the other hand, if your ark is sound and has some space available, have you decided who you are inviting to come on and ride out the flood with you? Give it some thought soon, because the water’s rising.
Nancy Sulfridge is the board president for Quixote Center and works in adult education in Southern Maryland.
The Trump administration has lost its mind. Really. During this pandemic, borders have been closed, airports shuttered and international travel generally restricted across the globe, all in an effort to contain COVID-19. The Trump administration has gone as far, or further, than most. It has shut U.S. borders to “non-essential” travel, which along the southern border means anyone seeking asylum is removed immediately to Mexico. 20,000 people have been expelled under this order. The administration has suspended most other forms of authorized migration as well, including the issuance of green cards, and restricting who can get work permits.
Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued to deport people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. To be very clear, they are doing this, well aware of the concurrent risk of spreading COVID-19. The United States is now the global center of coronavirus infections with over 30% of confirmed cases across the globe and well over 25% of global deaths. Within jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities, the rate of infection is much higher than among the general population. Inside ICE’s detention facilities specifically, the virus has now spread throughout the system – a primary reason being that ICE continues to transfer people within this network, guaranteeing its spread. The first confirmed death in custody due to COVID-19 has happened. There will be more. A Federal judge has mandated that ICE let more people out of detention – and in doing so, he noted ICE’s “callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.’”
The danger of spreading the disease is made that much worse by the fact that before being deported, people are transferred to staging facilities, where they are held for days and then put on airplanes. There is no way to safely deport people under these conditions. Indeed, as deportation flights have continued anyway, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has now been shown to have contributed to the spread of coronavirus to Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico and Colombia – and possibly elsewhere. Especially concerning are deportation flights to the city of Guayquil in Ecuador, which now has among the worst infection rates by population in the Americas.
For these and other reasons, hundreds of human rights organizations (here, here, and here), members of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the editorial boards of Washington Post, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe have called for an end to these flights. The governments of countries receiving people being deported have tried to get the flights called off during this pandemic, but these governments have been threatened with sanctions by Trump if they do anything to halt or “unreasonably” slow the process down.
Amidst all of the controversy, the number of flights has actually increased. ICE has only promised to begin testing – but only of some people. When such testing will start for the general population of those being deported – or even if it will – is anybody’s guess. Testing within ICE’s detention network has thus far been minimal, despite the spread of the disease. Testing a handful of people of only those showing symptoms before a flight is wholly inadequate.
At this point, one might be thinking: “It can’t get worse, right?” But then this is the Trump team and things can ALWAYS get worse. Based on reports from attorneys representing clients scheduled to be deported to Haiti on Monday, May 11 and confirmed separately by the Miami Herald, ICE intends to include at least five people that ICE personnel know are COVID-19 positive on this deportation flight to Haiti – along with 95 other people.
This is insane.
Not only does this make a mockery of the idea that ICE is taking any kind of preventative measures seriously; it means that Haiti will be forced to quarantine everyone on that flight. Haiti has thus far seen relatively few confirmed cases. While this may very well be the result of few tests being given, it is clear that Haiti has been holding its own, thus far walking a very thin line of prevention, given the state of its public health infrastructure. If the pandemic were to take hold here, it would be devastating. ICE seems okay with helping make that tragedy happen.
The United States must stop all of these deportation flights for the duration of the pandemic. And ICE must release people from detention to prevent further deaths. People should be let out and allowed to quarantine with family members. For those without family in the United States, community organizations around the country have already been preparing for the possibility of mass releases, to ensure that people are taken care of. We are running out of time.
I know Trump does not care about these people; they are mere talking points to him, and for the sake of political posturing, he will let them die. That leaves Congress to force his hand by cutting funding, or the courts to suspend the flights and be bolder in mandating the release of everybody in custody. There are limits to effectiveness with both of these targets. But we must speak out.
Send a message to your member of Congress asking them to speak out against these flights!
The Quixote Center is a member of Detention Watch Network and has been taking part in the #FreeThemAll campaign. Below I share the latest monthly update from the Campaign. In addition to this detailed and resource rich update, I would encourage everyone to read this powerful Colorlines Op-ed written by Priyanka Bhatt and Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South about conditions in Georgia’s prison, jails and detention facilities.
“We are scared. Here, we cannot keep the distance of two meters that is called for. All of us are placed together, we are 76 people in every section… there does not exist a way to be able to avoid an outbreak. Please, we ask for help from everyone…We are human beings, we also need to be with our families to be able to help them.”These are the words of an immigrant detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.
Though focused on Georgia, these conditions are replicated throughout the U.S. system of mass incarceration, as we have updated in recent weeks here,here and here
Update From Detention Watch Network
This is the first of a series of monthly email updates about the state of immigration detention. Now nearing two months since the administration declared a national state of emergency, it’s becoming even clearer that detention facilities cannot manage the spread of the virus.
On April 17th, ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence briefed the House Committee on Oversight regarding the agency’s response to the risks of COVID-19 in immigration detention. After weeks of pressure from public health experts, advocates, and elected officials alike for releasing people in ICE custody to best observe health and safety precautions, ICE admitted to having only released 693 individuals for virus-related concerns of the almost 30,000 people still in detention at the time.
Just days later, DWN members Southern Poverty Law Center and Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center succeeded in getting a preliminary injunction deeming this response seriously deficient and ordering ICE to re-evaluate custody determinations. And just days after that, another federal judge in Southern California ruled in favor of large-scale depopulation of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center until the facility can adequately follow social distancing recommendations. Instead, ICE is countersuing while the private prison company that runs this same facility is engaged in a separate legal battle to expand its capacity. To recall, the legality of the expansion request was in question after ICE truncated federal procurement processes to approve the expansion before state legislation that would have barred it went into effect in January. Both the agency and the private prison company, GEO Group, refuse to cancel the expansion despite the public health crisis and federal ruling, clearly demonstrating that they are unwilling to make necessary changes to keep immigrants safe in this moment.
State of Detention by the Numbers
As of April 25th, there are still 29,675 people in ICE detention. These numbers have been slowly decreasing – insufficiently so, and even then, we know that it is not as a result of ICE granting immigrants much needed relief. The administration’s menu of asylum restrictions has effectively closed our Southern border so that CBP is booking about 75% less people in to ICE custody. Meanwhile at a time when the agency is being advised to engage in mass releases, the average length of stay for people in ICE custody has increased 40% this month to 72.3 days. This means that since the start of this pandemic, ICE has actually been holding people for increasingly longer periods of time.
To be clear, when accounting for how the few releases ICE admitted to making contribute to the decreases in the detention population, it’s clear that the agency is not prioritizing the clearly outlined recommendation of release. The numbers do not mean immigrants are seeing relief but come in large part from denying people their right to seek asylum and continued deportations by the thousands – the true priorities of these agencies.
State of Organizing on the Inside
Since March, there have been at least 20 confirmed hunger strikes with nearly 2,000 people participating in detention facilities across the country, protesting their incarceration and demanding to be released. For reference, we recorded 13 hunger strikes in all of 2019. This is a nationwide trend of immigrants caged in ICE jails refusing meals, knowingly weakening their immune systems during the pandemic, because they understand that regardless of ICE’s response, release is their only option for true safety.
Folks are also protesting by refusing to work in the kitchen, laundry room, or commissary, as ICE is increasingly relying on the labor of people in its custody to operate its facilities. Immigrants in Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center held up signs asking for help through video communications, while member group La Resistencia captured protesters at Washington’s Northwest Detention Center spelling out distress signals with their bodies. People in detention are putting their bodies on the line to fight for their lives and their demands are clear: only immediate release will keep them safe from exposure to the virus.
ICYMI: Resources from the Network
New media analysis and recommendations created in partnership with Immigrant Defense Project and in consultation with other DWN members to build an understanding of how the media has been impacted by this moment and how to adapt to still get our stories out there.
Two-part webinar series led by Latinx Therapists Action Network on building and sharing tools for healing (May 11th and May 24th). Register here.
Fact sheets, custody re-determination request templates, and other resources for folks seeking relief for individuals particularly vulnerable to coronavirus exposure under the preliminary injunction.
New advocate report based on interviews with 150 people detained at five privately run ICE detention centers opened under the Trump administration. It looks at how the immigrant detention system has grown since 2017, the poor conditions and inadequate medical care, and the due process hurdles faced by immigrants held in remote locations.
DWN’s #FreeThemAll toolkit with regularly updated calls to action from DWN members. Please reach out to our team to have any new calls to action included as well.
The world is facing a global hunger crisis of “biblical” proportions, at least that was the headline for CNN’s report on the looming impact of coronavirus on food supply chains and health systems around the world. Does biblical mean really bad? Or huge? Or end of times? Not clear. But certainly the point was global hunger was about to spike. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the world was facing a crisis of maybe pre-biblical proportions – or more Hebrew Scriptures than Revelations-level stuff. The World Food Program’s report for the coming year initially identified nearly 130 million people facing a crisis level or worse for insecurity around the globe – meaning they either did not have enough food, or could only eat by foregoing other necessities. These pre-COVID numbers were modified upwards as borders began to shut and economies slowed. The World Food Program in essence, doubled its estimate of people facing crisis level food shortages, with the risk of perhaps 36 countries seeing famine for some of their people. Currently there are 10 countries in the world where more than a million people are at crisis levels of food insecurity, and thus on the brink of falling into widespread famine.
Haiti is one of them.
The World Food Program tracks crises across different levels of food insecurity. From Phase 1 (None, or minimal) to Phase 5 (Famine). As the map above shows, almost all of Haiti’s departments are at Phase 3 (Crisis). As noted, this means there is either not enough food, or people can only eat enough if they forego other necessities. Across the country 2.6 million people are at this level. Another 1.1 million people are facing Phase 4, or emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning there are large gaps in meeting daily requirements that are reflected in wide spread malnutrition. In total, then 3.7 million people are at crisis level of higher.
Another 3.2 million people are at Phase 2 – or stressed, meaning households are barely finding enough to eat. The households at Phase 2 are at high risk of sliding into Phase 3 as the economy slows and food prices increase.
All of which means, in Haiti, 35% of households are currently facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse and the prospect of that number reaching 65% amidst the economic contraction associated with COVID-19 is very high. This would, of course, also mean that people currently facing more extreme shortages will see their situation worsen. Famine is a very real possibility in parts of the country.
The roots of this crisis run deep. It is widely understood that the current food crisis in Haiti rests on historical factors, from the re-engineering of Haiti’s economy as an agro-export platform under the U.S. occupation 100 years ago, to the dismantling of protections for domestic food production in the late 1990s, to the recent collapse of their currency, the Haitian gourde, and spikes in fuel prices. Another collapse, that of the rural economy in Haiti, contributed to the movement of people to increasingly crowded and under serviced cities, thus magnifying the tragedy of the earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The point is that these deep structural changes have reshaped Haiti and will not be transformed any time soon. Though, perhaps, as the current crisis unveils the global forces undermining food security, world leaders will take it more seriously in Haiti and elsewhere. Maybe.
Meanwhile, the primary countervailing force has been the organization of people in rural areas seeking to find sustainable pathways out of the crisis. The combined efforts of peasant associations, rural workers, reforestation initiatives and youth organizing are laying the foundation for a different kind of rural ecology.
Our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is one small part of this nationwide effort. You can explore the map below to get a sense of the scope of the program.
In the coming week we are making a special appeal to support an emergency fund that will support the purchase of seeds to disseminate to small farmers in the region. The program already runs a seed bank. Our goal is to boost supplies for the seed bank so that the team can expand efforts to deliver seeds for low or no cost as soon as the spring rains begin. Planting now, means more food in three months. You can join in this effort by making a donation here.