Haitians in Mexico face harsh conditions, discrimination

“The racism against people and families from Haiti – for those who have been victims of violence, trauma and family separation – is institutional.”  

On Saturday, September 11, Mexican immigration authorities working alongside the National Guard launched an operation that led to the arrest and detention of 400 migrants from Central America and Caribbean. Later in the morning, 150 of them, all Haitians, were expelled from Mexico into Guatemala. According to newsource, Arestegui, they were driven to the border crossing at Carmen in the department of San Marcos, Guatemala. “There, they abandoned the more than 150 Haitian migrants, including children, women and men, to block their re-entry to Chiapas.”

On Monday, September 13, hundreds of Haitians, alongside migrants from Cuba and countries of Africa, gathered in the central square in Tapachula demanding permission to leave the state. This follows several caravans of Haitians and others who have tried to leave Tapachula over the past two weeks, only to be turned back, often violently, by INM and the Guardia. 

The majority of migrants entering into southern Mexico continue to be from Central America, but there has also been an increase in the number of migrants from Haiti, many of whom have applied for asylum or refugee status. Nearly all of whom have been trapped in or near Tapachula, Tabasco while waiting – some for close to two years.  According to Mexican Senator Emilio Álvarez, as of September 7 of the 137,000 migrants present in southern Mexico, 30,000 were Haitian nationals. Other sources show that as of the end of August, of the 55,000 people who have applied for asylum in the Tapachula office of COMAR this year, 19,000 are Haitians.  

Haitians arriving in Mexico over the last two years are mostly coming from Brazil and Chile, where economic pressure and nativist/racist backlashes have led to more restrictive immigration laws and declining work opportunities. The ongoing political crisis in Haiti is also leading people to look for a way out, many traveling to South America through the Dominican Republic and then up through Central America. Whether people’s journeys from Haiti started 10 years ago or 10 months ago, the trip is long, extremely dangerous and expensive. In Mexico, people are stuck near the Guatemala border awaiting legal status that will provide mobility within Mexico.

The crisis along Mexico’s southern border is the direct result of pressure from the United States government, which has demanded that Mexico block the passage of Central American migrants and others. Such pressure is not new. Clinton, Bush and Obama pressed the government of Mexico on migration. Trump, however, took it to extremes, blackmailing the government of Mexico under threat of trade sanctions to halt migration. Biden has not relented in this pressure. Though more reliant on carrots (promises of vaccine support) rather than sticks (sanctions), Biden has nevertheless pressed Mexico repeatedly to block the movement of people migrating toward the US-Mexico border.

As a result, since 2019 Mexico has further militarized its southern border and placed restrictions on the movement of migrants. Under pressure from Biden back in April of this year, the Mexican government agreed to send up to 10,000 more National Guardsmen to the southern border to assist with immigration enforcement. 

In 2019, Mexico also changed rules covering temporary, oficios de salida or “exit visas.” Prior to the summer of 2019, people arriving in southern Mexico could receive a visa for 15 to 30 days – allowing them time to apply for a change in status. Many traveled to the border with the United States. Visas now require exit through the nearest (for most) southern border, leaving people with the option of applying for asylum, or other change of status within that time frame. If trying to reach the United States immediately, they must do cross Mexico in an unauthorized manner. 

For Haitians, Cubans, and others from Africa and Asia, simply returning back to Central America is not really an option; indeed, this was not even possible for most 2020 because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

In October of 2020 there were caravans protesting these new visa rules and other restrictions on mobility for asylum seekers; rules that require people to stay within the border of the state within which they sought asylum – for the vast majority of Haitians this is Chiapas. The resulting caravans were violently repressed by the National Guard in a preview of what we are seeing now.

Meanwhile, COMAR is overwhelmed. Legally required to issue asylum decisions within 45 days, COMAR is now taking months, and in some cases, years to make a determination.

The result is a simmering crisis fueled by human rights violations and an asylum system backlogged to the breaking point.

Much of the above may seem episodic in the sense that the backlog and new rules have resulted from a very particular convergence of issues, all exacerbated by COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, for Haitians and other black migrants, there remains a long standing tradition of discriminatory treatment at the hands of Mexico’s immigration authorities.

In September of 2019, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) raised specific concerns regarding the Mexican government’s treatment of migrants as part of its review of the government’s fulfillment of obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Concerns included the “negative impact of the work of the National Guard on migration control and the use of racial profiling by migration authorities, which has led to arbitrary detention and systematic refoulement without adequate legal advice.” Finally, the CERD noted, “concern that the phenomenon of migrant caravans has led to an increase in discourse informed by discriminatory views, racial hatred and xenophobia targeting migrants.” 

As a result of these findings, the CERD made several recommendations for reform, including a review of the deployment of the National Guard with a view toward “withdrawing it from that task,” and also called for thorough investigations of “all acts of discrimination, excessive use of force and abuse of authority committed against migrants.”

In June of this year a coalition of organizations in Mexico issued a statement against the government for its failure to implement these recommendations. They wrote, 

The racism against people and families from Haiti – for those who have been victims of violence, trauma and family separation – is institutional. One of these cases is Maxene André who died on the 6th of August 2019 inside the Migration Centre “Siglo XXI” in Tapachula, Chiapas. André was sick and isolated for 15 days out of the 20 days that he was in detention.

The response by the Mexican government and institutions has incited xenophobia and discrimination against migrants entering through the southern border, particularly by deploying the INM at the borders in collaboration with the NGF and members from the SEDENA to stop migrants and asylum seekers to enter, especially through the southern border. 

The attacks against the migrant caravan earlier this month is thus a reminder of the Mexican government’s ongoing failure to implement necessary reforms to address violations against migrants, including the failure to take steps to respond to the specific needs of migrants from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. 

Within Mexico, human rights organizations are speaking out about the situation, and demanding that the government make reform immediately. The calls for reforms include providing migrants work authorizations that would allow them to travel beyond the boundaries of Chiapas while they await a decision on their asylum claims. The United States is also called out for its relentless pressure on Mexico to halt the movement of people approaching the US border.

For those of us in the United States, this last message is crucial. What is being discussed as a border crisis, at both the northern and southern borders of Mexico, cannot be separated from the United States government’s relentless campaign against asylum. Trump launched an all out war against asylum – at a time when border crossing was actually at a low point. Now, with institutions degraded and processes uncertain, Biden seems to simply be doubling down, blocking avenues to asylum in the hopes that doing so will deter enough people from trying to come here that he can buy some time to implement reform.

It is demonstrably not working.

The consequences are tens of thousands of people left stranded in Chiapas, and thousands more left stranded in the United States, as seen under the bridge in Del Rio, Texas. 

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Updates from Haiti: Foote is out, and the emergency response still needed

This week has been a roller coaster. As of Friday there have been at least 21 deportation flights to Haiti this week as the Biden administration tries to clear out thousands of people who have been stuck at the Del Rio port of entry after crossing into Texas – most from Haiti. As a frame of reference, through the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, there were a total of 37 flights to Haiti. As Biden has doubled down on Title 42 expulsions, the vast majority of people processed will simply be expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum.

The mass deportations of Haitians back to a country that is clearly in crisis, reeling from political violence and the recent earthquake, has led to widespread condemnation. Hundreds of organizations have issued statements of opposition to these expulsions and the treatment of Haitians in Del Rio, including UNITE/HERE and the NAACP. Democratic leadership has also spoken out, with both Schumer and Pelosi criticizing the expulsions.

We’ve been writing about about the situation all week. If you’d like to catch up, see our statement denouncing the expulsions here, and some background on the context of the crisis in Del Rio here. Finally, I get a little angry with Biden over all of this here.

Foote is out

The biggest news to emerge from official criticism comes with the resignation of the US Special Envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, who quit his post in protest of the Biden administration’s deportation policy, as well as continued US efforts to control the electoral process in Haiti. Jake Johnston from the Center for Economic and Policy Research broke the story early Thursday morning in an excellent article you can read here.

The media has covered Foote’s condemnation of the deportation policy widely, but has downplayed his criticism of US intervention. This is too bad, as he makes clear a point that we and many others have been making for months now: The United States continues to intervene in the electoral process in an attempt to control the outcome. Foote writes

[W]hat our Haitian friends really want, and need, is the opportunity to chart their own course, without international puppeteering and favored candidates but with genuine support for that course. I do not believe that Haiti can enjoy stability until her citizens have the dignity of truly choosing their leaders fairly and acceptably.

Last week, the U.S. and other embassies in Port-au-Prince issued another public statement of support for the unelected, de facto Prime MInister Dr. Ariel Henry as interim leader of Haiti, and have continued to tout his “political agreement” over another broader, earlier accord shepherded by civil society. The hubris that makes us believe we should pick the winner – again – is impressive. This cycle of international political intervention in Haiti has consistently produced catastrophic results. [emphasis added].

What impact Foote’s departure will have on US policy is hard to read. He clearly felt that there was little chance of a change – or he would have stayed on. Ambassador Sison and other officials at State continue to call the shots for now, which does not bode well for the majority of people in Haiti. Of course, the administration replied to all of this by throwing Foote under the imperial bus, basically calling him a liar (they never use the actual word, of course). This doesn’t suggest much internal reflection about the demonstrable failure of US policy regarding the political process in Haiti.

Earthquake response

Reports from the impacted area suggest that coordination is still limited among some of the major players. The result being that some communities are still being ignored, while others are seeing a duplication of efforts and the resulting waste of resources. 

While that general critique is probably to be expected (do we ever actually learn lessons from previous disaster responses?) there are some good things to lift up

The Quixote Center has directed most of our emergency response funding to the Haiti Response Coalition, of which we are a member. The HRC has gathered a team of community organizers who are engaged in community surveys, analyzing local needs and providing some assistance. A full update of the first month’s activities is available here.  An excerpt from the longer report on emergency response:

Haiti Response Coalition is taking steps to respond to each of these priority needs:

Health: We are working with the Haiti Health Network and Barbara Campbell at Dalton Foundation to coordinate with organizations who are able to provide mobile clinics for areas where there is a need for a medical team.

Food and basic necessities: In the first seven communities identified during assessments, locally accessible markets have food and other basic necessities available for sale. In order to support the local economy and small businesswomen, and to avoid the logistical challenges of transporting and distributing these items, Haiti Response Coalition is making direct cash transfers to 600 affected families in the seven communities.

Water: Instead of bringing water into the southwest in plastic bottles, Haiti Response Coalition is looking for long-term water solutions. In several of the target communities, including Pestel and the Cayemites islands, water systems were damaged during the earthquake leading to contaminated water supplies in some cases, and an inability to catch, store and treat water. Family and community cisterns were cracked or destroyed during the quake, and in addition, some farmers in Camp Perrin and Cavaillon are calling for support to repair irrigation canals before the end of the rainy season. Over the coming two weeks, an engineer will visit these communities to provide a technical assessment and recommendations to repair water systems.

Shelter: Unlike the 2010 earthquake which forced people out of their urban neighborhoods into parks and other open spaces, this earthquake has mainly impacted people who have land around their homes and therefore do not necessarily have to move into camps for safety. However, camps have formed throughout the earthquake affected regions and there are several factors contributing to this growing situation. Many people from remote villages have moved down to the camp near the national highways in hopes of benefiting from aid that is being transported along these roads because they have not seen any kind of response where they live in the weeks since the earthquake.

In order to help people get out of the rain as quickly as possible, the Coalition is

    • Developing model transitional shelters built from materials available locally in each of the three geographical departments; 
    • Gathering information about existing models and best practices to inform our response and contribute to the development of a global shelter strategy;
    • Exploring options for construction of temporary spaces for schools to reopen in a couple of weeks; and 
    • Working with neighborhood associations in Port-au-Prince to create a model for solidarity konbit work teams to help clear rubble and build temporary shelters for families and schools in affected areas.
    • In addition, we will be working with partners to develop a model for accompanying families currently in tent camps back to their homes and connecting them with support there.

As the summary makes clear, there is a strong emphasis in the medium and long term on utilizing local resources, rather than bringing in external supplies except where there are few other options. 

The Quixote Center did provide support for other emergency responses during the first couple of weeks after the earthquake: Provision of medical supplies delivered to Baradare by the Fondasyon Mapou, and 400 food and sanitary kits delivered to several smaller communities closer in to Les Cayes; an effort organized by the Kolectif pou Lakay.

A lot has been going on! Here are a few things to read to catch up

Jake Johnston, “US Envoy to Haiti Resigns, Citing Political Intervention and “Inhumane” Deportation Policy” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Jake not only breaks this story, scooping “major” media outlets by a couple of hours, he also provides much needed context to help understand many of the details in the letter of resignation and what the US government has been up to. So, this really is a must read. 

Human Rights First and the Haitian Bridge Alliance, Biden Administration’s Dangerous Haitian Expulsion Strategy Escalates the U.S. History of Illegal and Discriminatory Mistreatment of Haitians Seeking Safety in the United States. Online here. This “factsheet” provides a great overview of recent border policy (Title 42), and situates current events in the context of a history of abusive immigraiton policies targeting Haitians. The chart on page 2 tells you everything you need to know about the failure of deterrence: Blocking asylum access at points of entry has only led people to cross between ports – it has not stopped them!

Another backgrounder/factsheet from the Latin America Working Groups, Human Rights First and others, Doubling Down on Deterrence: Access to Asylum Under Biden. This came out earlier in the month and does not address the situation at Del Rio directly (nor is it Haiti specific), but it does provide all the background you need to understand what is really happening at the border.

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The Quixote Center denounces the Biden administration expulsion of Haitian refugees

The Quixote Center joins with other human rights and faith-based organizations in unequivocally condemning the Biden administration’s decision to begin the mass expulsion of Haitian refugees who have been detained in Del Rio, Texas.

“The disaster unfolding in Del Rio is the direct result of the Biden administration’s decision to keep Title 42 enforcement in place. By continuing this Trump policy of denying people access to asylum at the border under the guise of public health, Biden has left them no place to go,” says Quixote Center program director, Tom Ricker.

Since taking office the Biden administration has escalated the Trump administration’s policy of misusing Title 42 of the U.S. Code to illegally block asylum at ports of entry and expel families and adults who cross the border seeking protection, including many from Haiti.  According to prominent public health experts from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and other medical schools and hospitals around the country, there is no sound public health rationale for the Title 42 ban on migrants.

Quixote Center executive director John Marchese says, “Blocking refugees from seeking asylum in the United States is cruel. Expelling Haitians in this way given conditions in Haiti right now, following an earthquake several weeks ago, and the ongoing political instability, manifested in the assassination of the country’s president, is unconscionable.”

The Quixote Center joins in the demand for the Biden administration:

  • Stop all deportations: Haitian migrants are refugees, fleeing dangerous conditions in Haiti, and shouldn’t be sent back without an opportunity to claim asylum or other protections.
  • Terminate Title 42: don’t defend it and stop using it to unjustifiably expel Haitians.
  • Grant humanitarian parole: Haitians seeking protections must be granted humanitarian parole to allow them to be transferred to safer conditions and away from CBP mistreatment.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance: Provide safe shelter, water, food and health care to Haitians who are in Del Rio awaiting an opportunity to request protection.
  • Investigate CBP: The Office of the Inspector General must immediately start an investigation into the use of whips, or whip-like devices, and other mistreatment of Haitians by Border Patrol.

The Quixote Center has partnered with grassroots groups in Haiti for 30 years and also supports migrant shelters in Mexico and Central America.

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Biden v Trump: When the “lesser of two evils” turns out not to be

Somewhere in this country, Stephen Miller is probably sitting in a grimy basement watching television reports of the debacle unfolding under the Del Rio bridge. Fingers twitching in imitation of the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns, he grins and cackles and gives himself high fives. As Trump’s immigration adviser, Miller handed Biden a time-bomb, and it is now blowing up. I assume Miller is enjoying this.

Of course, Biden is hardly the victim here. Elected on an immigration platform that was one half “I’m not Trump” and the other “I’ve got ideas,” he has had ample opportunity to defuse this bomb. Instead, he chose to double down on some of Miller/Trump’s worst ideas regarding access to asylum in the United States, thus, basically jettisoning both of the guide posts of his platform.

Though saying many of the right things, and making some gestures at reform early on, with a few exceptions, Biden’s administration is indistinct from Trump’s as far as the impact on peoples’ lives. If talking about Haitian migrants, Biden is demonstrably worse.

This is primarily because Biden has kept Title 42 enforcement in place and expanded its reach. This policy is the direct cause of the disaster in Del Rio, and the inhumane solution of mass deportations of refugees back to Haiti.

Title 42 refers to an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) that claims authority under Title 42 of the US code to block people from seeking asylum in the United States so that they may be summarily expelled. The order was issued to avoid holding people in aggregate settings, such as detention facilities, where COVID-19 might spread, and also to protect Border Patrol agents. The original order was issued in March 2020 and has been updated several times since, most recently by the Biden Administration in July 2021.

One look at Del Rio and it is clear that the order was never really meant as a public health order. People are placed in “aggregate settings” all of the time. They are detained, forced onto planes and flown all over the world, put into busses and so on. 

The CDC initially opposed implementing an order under Title 42, claiming the order lacked a public health justification. But after pressure from Miller, and ultimately Vice President Mike Pence, the CDC was forced to issue the order. As Dr. Anthony So, an international public health expert at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in a letter to Dr. Redfield in April 2020, “The decision to halt asylum processes ‘to protect the public health’ is not based on evidence or science…This order directly endangers tens of thousands of lives and threatens to amplify dangerous anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia.”

In January 2021, public health experts pleaded with CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Acting Secretary of HHS Norris Cochran to rescind the CDC policies, stating, “[t]he CDC order does not, nor was it ever intended to, protect public health. Exploiting public health to ban refugees and immigrants was a goal of the Trump administration long before the pandemic. The Trump administration furthered this anti-immigrant agenda when it strong-armed the CDC into authorizing the mass expulsion of asylum seekers.” Biden promised a review of the policy, and in July of 2021 he extended it indefinitely – another evaluation is due in October. 

With Title 42 remaining the operational framework at the border, not only are people still being expelled by the tens of thousands each month, but the impact of other reforms is made moot.

For example, early in his term, Biden cancelled controversial Asylum Cooperation Agreements that Trump had negotiated with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Under these agreements people from Central America who sought asylum in the United States were to be flown to one of these countries. It was a really bad idea, and only implemented briefly with Guatemala (and then shut down due to COVID travel restrictions). Canceling ACAs was thus a smart move by Biden, even if they were not really in effect at the time. 

However, in August, Biden’s Department of Homeland Security started flying people from Central America to southern Mexico under Title 42. From there, they were bussed to the border with Guatemala and dumped by Mexico’s immigration agency, INM, to make their way into Guatemala, or across Guatemala. Some, of course, simply turned around and headed north again after a brief pause because going home was still not an option.

As a result of these flights, Biden has summarily expelled far more people on planes to southern Mexico, and from there into or through Guatemala, than were ever removed under the ACA negotiated with Guatemala in 2019. The effect is thus largely the same – expelling Central American refugees to a third country, but with the important caveat that there is no official process in place for Guatemala (or Mexico for that matter) to receive these people as refugees or asylum seekers. Indeed, Guatemala has pushed back against receiving non-Guatemalan nationals because Mexico and US immigration agencies have been leaving them at remote ports of entry in and near the Lacandon forest where there are few services available. 

Even more Trumpish is the Biden administration’s additional pressure on Mexico to expand its role as the United States’ junior partner in immigration enforcement. Trump threatened tariffs, Biden has blackmailed with AstraZeneca vaccines, but in the end the demands on Mexico have remained the same: Keep immigrants away from the US border.

Obviously Mexico has a limited capacity to do this, but they have tried. The result is further militarization of Mexico’s border with Guatemala, which was closed to non-essential travel in April. Limitations on migrant movement have meant that people, particularly from Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela (the people primarily stuck under the Del Rio bridge right now) have been stuck in Chiapas for months. In some cases, for years. Why? If they have applied for asylum they are not permitted to leave the state they enter – for most that is Chiapas or Tabasco. The agency that makes these decisions (COMAR) is required by law to respond to asylum applications within 45 days. They are very far behind. 

Unable to leave the state, and unable to find work in Tapachula while waiting for COMAR to decide their fates, people frustrated by these obstacles launched a series of caravans in August and early September, some with the goal of reaching Mexico City in order to press COMAR to make decisions. The caravans were brutally attacked by INM and Mexico’s national guard and then forced back into Tapachula (Chiapas). Summary expulsions of people, many with legal status as refugee or asylum applicants has also taken place.

The result of attacking the caravans has been, predictably, that people have simply sought other unauthorized means to leave Chiapas, some to make their way to the United States. It is no accident that the increase in border crossings at Del Rio is taking place 2-3 weeks following the crackdown in Chiapas. People’s desperation outweighs our cruelty. All Biden and Obrador have done with these policies is to make it more dangerous for people to move – they have not stopped them.

In the end, what runs as a consistent theme of US immigration for the last 40 years, the period covering the development of current enforcement and detention institutions, is deterrence. The logic of deterrence is that if you treat migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, in the most inhumane ways imaginable, others will take note and stop coming. Biden is as much a believer in (and implementer of) this approach as Trump.

Look at the images from Del Rio and note that after 40 years, the one thing that is abundantly clear is that deterrence does not work as a means to sustainably reduce migration. All it does achieve is the goal of wrecking people’s lives. That policy makers know this and keep doing it anyway, is truly evil.

If this sounds like hyperbole, consider that as I am writing this, Biden is seeking a private contractor to run an immigrant detention facility at Guantanamo Bay – with the requirement that some guards speak Haitian creole. Not content to double down on the worst policy of the Trump administration, Biden is prepared to add into the mix one of the worst policies of the Clinton administration – detention of Haitian refugees at GITMO – a reminder that the current immigration horror show is a bi-partisan affair. There is no “lesser evil’.’ The whole system stinks. 

To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw misquoting Hegel: “What we learn from history is that people learn nothing from history.”

What can we do? For now, we keep up the pressure

Call the White House (202.456.1111), and

Call your member of Congress and ask them to amplify this message to Biden (202.224.3121):

  • Stop all expulsions: Haitian migrants are refugees, fleeing dangerous conditions in Haiti, and shouldn’t be sent back without an opportunity to claim asylum or other protections.
  • Terminate Title 42: don’t defend it and stop using it to unjustifiably expel Haitians.
  • Grant humanitarian parole: Haitians seeking protections must be granted humanitarian parole to allow them to be transferred to safer conditions and away from CBP mistreatment.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance: Provide safe shelter, water, food and health care to Haitians who are in Del Rio awaiting an opportunity to request protection.
  • Investigate CBP: The Office of the Inspector General must immediately start an investigation into the use of whips, or whip-like devices, and other mistreatment of Haitians by Border Patrol.


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Walls and Bridges: Del Rio and immigration policy in the age of spectacle

We live in a global society of spectacle. Capitalism in its latest stage is fueled by the production of the imaginary. Business, activism, and politics are all played out in virtual spaces, while the world we physically live in becomes experienced primarily in reference to images; the more spectacular, the more entertaining, or the more shocking, the more engaged we become. 

In this society of the spectacle, immigration policy has been turned into an absurdity, almost entirely divorced from the world. It is difficult to assemble and respond to all of the ways in which immigration policy is an illogical manifestation of an obsession with spectacle. However, we can look at the situation unfolding in Del Rio, Texas as a start.

Over the last week, we are told that up to 14,000 people have crossed the Rio Grande and are now under a bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. While the people under the bridge come from all over the world, the media is focused primarily on Haitian migrants who make up the largest portion.

The media circus that has resulted is what one would expect with people in a desperate situation, crowded, overheated, without access to sufficient sanitation and so on.

Republicans line up to denounce Biden for being too lenient, using the people under the bridge as a backdrop.

Democrats assure everyone that they do not support an open border, and to make that point, have begun to deport people to Haiti at a pace unheard of even during the nadir of the Trump administration.

It is a spectacle to be sure. So, just to clarify:

The Bridge

The people who are under the bridge in Del Rio crossed the river at a port of entry. They are not “illegal” immigrants; they are seeking authorized admittance into the United States.

More to the point, for those seeking asylum, under US law they have a legal right to do so once inside the United States, no matter how they arrived.

Through the end of August, Haitians made up less than 1.8% of all CBP encounters so far this fiscal year.

Del Rio has become the sector where folk from Haiti (as well as Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and elsewhere) have increasingly attempted entry. 

At the Del Rio crossing, the percent of people encountered who are Haitian is thus higher than the national average—but still a small portion of the 251,000 people encountered in the sector.

In other words, the scene at the bridge has nothing to do with border crossing trends seen in recent months—and one must wonder why it is now that a crisis is declared and that Haitians are the face of it. 

To Republicans hand wringing over conditions, a reminder that two years ago the bridge was in El Paso, and the conditions were allowed to ferment for months under a Republican president.

To Biden, note that the horrible treatment meted out to the migrants in 2019 did not stop people from coming. Their desperation outweighs our cruelty. Sending 3 to 4 deportation flights to Haiti a day will not solve anything.

This is not a crisis born of leniency from the Biden administration.

The Wall

That right to seek asylum has been set aside under a public health order issued by the CDC in March of 2020. The public health disaster unfolding under that bridge is the result of this CDC order.

The reason? Under this public health order, which is referred to as “Title 42,” people are denied access to asylum except under a very narrowly read provision regarding request for protection under the Convention Against Torture.

Operational guidelines from DHS on implementing this order require that people be removed immediately through expulsion to the country from which they arrived.

Haitians, Venezuelans, Cubans, and others cannot be so removed—Mexico will not accept them. And so they are stuck between a river they cannot cross back over, and a port of entry where, with few exceptions, they will not be processed for any other reason than expulsion under Title 42.

Biden never halted deportations to Haiti, and he never made a public commitment to do so, despite being pressed to do this by members of Congress, human rights organizations, and others. There was a brief pause in removal flights following the assassination of President Moïse, and another after the earthquake in August. 

Deportation flights to Haiti had already resumed last week before the situation under the bridge in Del Rio blew up in the media.

Biden has continued to enforce Title 42, and has sent his emissaries far and wide with a simple message to people from Haiti and Cuba, to Guatemala and Honduras – DO NOT COME!

Far from being too soft, Biden has summarily expelled far more people than Trump during his last year in office—and though this is certainly the result of an increase in migration, the policies themselves have hardly changed.

The Migrant Protection Protocol was ended briefly—but MPP had already become marginal compared to the scale of Title 42 expulsions. Now, a court is forcing Biden to reinstate MPP.


There is a tremendous amount of information in the media about the situation in Haiti – a political crisis, a spike in violence, the earthquake and its impacts, and an ongoing crisis of food insecurity made worse by all of the above.

More spectacle.

The Biden administration is well aware of all of this. For these reasons, his administration re-designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status in July. TPS does not cover anyone under that bridge right now, and does not mean that deportations to Haiti were halted. TPS is not automatic.

Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the grassroots movement for democratic reform in Haiti, and how the United States under both Trump and Biden have set aside the concerns of this movement and their proposals for solutions.

Amidst the spectacle, what is not talked about is the movement against violence from Haitian activists and civil society. A movement manifested in multiple strategies from longstanding intentional work against gender-based violence to impromptu protests against kidnappings. 

Amidst the spectacle, what is also not talked about is how weapons fueling this violence are almost all from the United States – which has not only failed to address, in any meaningful way, gun control within its borders, but refuses to address the US gun industries’ complicity in fomenting violence throughout the Americas.

The problem is not that the United States doesn’t care about what happens in Haiti. The problem is that the US government cares about the wrong things.

“The poorest….”

Every newspaper article about Haiti references the fact that Haiti is the “poorest country in the western hemisphere.” But almost none of those articles will mention the US colonization of Haiti from 1915 to 1934, the system of pillage therein established, and how the United States maintained that system of pillage by sponsoring dictatorship for decades. 

Rarely will these accounts mention the “independence” debt, whereby France demanded reparations for the lands and the human beings formerly treated as property by French colonists. If this is mentioned at all, never will the follow-up be how the National City Bank of New York assumed that debt in a process engineered by the US State Department, or that this debt was not paid off to the National City Bank of New York until 1947.

Articles never mention how multilateral lenders strangled the elected governments of René Préval and Jean-Bertrand Aristide, only to then funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to the US-installed regime of Gérard Latortue, and the PHTK governments under Martelly and Moïse – both elected, but in processes widely viewed as illegitimate and dominated by US pressure.

In other words, Haiti’s impoverishment is the direct result of 100 years of United States government interference and pillage. Haiti surely has many internal contradictions and tremendous inequality as a result of this. Yet, the biggest obstacle to democracy in Haiti remains the US government.

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President Biden re-starts deportations to Haiti

Screenshot of iAero Flight 3540, San Antonio to Port au Prince, September 15

September 14 marked one month since a devastating earthquake struck the southern peninsula of Haiti, leaving over 2,200 people dead and 137,000 homes damaged or destroyed. On September 15, the Biden administration marked the passing of the month by deporting dozens of families, including infants and young children to Haiti. Though not particularly surprising, I certainly share my colleagues’ disgust with this blatant disregard for the well being of the people involved.

The flight on September 15 came after an appeal organized by the Haitian Bridge Alliance, and signed by 344 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and yours truly at the Quixote Center, calling on the administration to halt all removal flights to Haiti. Over 40 members of Congress issued their own call to the administration to halt removals to Haiti. There have been multiple such appeals over the last two years. 

On September 15 we got our answer, the same answer we always get, which is basically “f*ck off, we’re sending the flights anyway.”

To be clear, the situation in the southern departments of Nippes, Grand Anse and Sud remains critical. While a number of larger NGOs have landed and taken photos in and around Les Cayes to promote their work in funding appeals, communities throughout the three departments hit worst by the quake have seen very little outside help.

Though community members themselves have organized, alongside Haitian professionals, doctors and more, who have created volunteer brigades that are beginning to reach people, the international non-governmental sector is looking much like it did back in 2010 – preening for cameras and sucking all the oxygen (and funding) out of the relief efforts. The government of Haiti’s agency for coordinating relief efforts estimates that only 46% of the 650,000 people in need of assistance have received “some kind” of humanitarian relief – most of those clustered in larger cities. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars is being pledged

Violence in Martissant continues to impact the delivery of assistance, while also driving people from their homes. The number of people displaced by gang violence continues to rise. Kidnappings are increasing again as well. The police remain unable (or unwilling) to intervene.

The political crisis continues its twists and turns. The latest, the sitting interim prime minister, Ariel Henry, has been accused of participating in the plot that led to the murder of president Jovenel Moïse back on July 7.  Henry has since fired the prosecutor who leveled the charge as well as the Minister of Justice.

The assassination of Moïse garned even more media attention than the earthquake has, and led Biden to suspend deportations as well – also for one month. In the week of August 9-13, two deportation flights landed in Haiti. On August 14 the earthquake. 

The media has moved on now to the debacle in Afghanistan, the recall election in California and the ongoing insanity that is the Texas state government. Haiti is forgotten.

And so the deportations have begun again, even though the crisis in Haiti is worse now than when the flights were briefly suspended 4 weeks ago. In the calculus of the administration one month seems to be a sufficient amount of time for the usual US American amnesia about the rest of the world to set in following a dramatic crisis. Probably they are right.

Meanwhile in Haiti, people are problem solving, and the US is more or less just getting in the way. The Commission for a Haitian led Solution to the Crisis, issued its own road map for a transitional government. Representing a broad sector of civil society, professional associations, and even opposition party leaders, the Commission’s hard won consensus is probably the best path to a transition that might be viewed as legitimate. Henry has reportedly agreed to meet with the Commission, and another coalition Henry assembled to discuss a path forward. For its part, the Biden administration has appeared nonplussed by the Commission. The US State Department has adopted the language of “Haitian led” processes, while ignoring what Haitian organizations are actually proposing.    

People throughout the southern peninsula of Haiti continue to dig out friends, build temporary shelters, and work together to repair what can be repaired with the limited supplies at hand. The Haiti Response Coalition has offered an update on community assessments that are underway. HRC works with the Konbit Journalis Lib, a Haitian journalism collective assisting with the outreach efforts, and also documenting the stories of Haitians impacted by the storm. USAID could actually help if it cared about using its resources to bolster Haitian led reconstruction efforts. But, no, USAID is funding the usual US based suspects.

Haiti certainly has its own internal contradictions. We do no one any favors by pretending otherwise. But the US leans into these contradictions to widen them. And that is unacceptable. When people are forced to flee the resulting turmoil, we capture them and send them back. The U.S. blocks Haitians trying to leave. The U.S. gets in the way of Haitians trying change the course of their own government in participatory way.  And, of course, the U.S. won’t ever, ever take responsibility for what a century of U.S. sponsored pillage and violence has sown in Haiti.

We need to continue speaking out against these removal flights, and demanding an end to the Title 42 policy under which these families were expelled without access to asylum. And we have to remain cognizant of the conditions that people in Haiti are fleeing, and the ways the United States has contributed to the creation of those condition.

The White House needs to hear from us. You can call the White House comment line [202-456-1111] with a simple message: “Halt deportations to Haiti.”  You can also remind the administration that in declaring Temporary Protected Status for Haiti, the administration recognized that conditions in Haiti warranted halting deportation proceedings.

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Migration from Nicaragua 

There has been a notable increase in migration from Nicaragua toward the United States in recent months. According to an Associated Press review of Customs and Border Statistics, the number of Nicaraguans who have been picked up by Border Patrol during the current fiscal year is 33,000, with 7,325 encounters just in June and 13,000 arriving in July [Note: Updated figures with graphs at end of post]. This represents a significant increase over recent migration from Nicaragua. Indeed, for most of the period since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2006, annual encounters of Border Patrol with Nicaraguans hovered around 1,000.

The only reason for the increase in migration from Nicaragua explored in AP and Reuters investigations is the claim that people are fleeing political persecution. This has become the latest media narrative on Nicaragua – i.e., a political crackdown is leading to an exodus from Nicaragua. Like many other narratives over the last three years, this is not really true, or, at least it is far from the whole story. It is true that there has been a spate of arrests of political opposition figures since June. One can argue about the validity of these arrests, but they’ve clearly happened and have been widely condemned outside the country. There has also been an increase in people leaving Nicaragua, represented by an increase in people arriving at the US/Mexico border. The fact that both things are happening does not mean one is causing the other, as anyone who survived a freshman statistics class can tell you – correlation is not causation.

The increase in people seeking asylum from Nicaragua is undeniable. Since the political crisis erupted in April of 2018, the number of Nicaraguans seeking asylum around the world has risen dramatically. In 2015, for example, the number of people from Nicaragua seeking asylum across the globe was 1,232; in 2017 it was 2,722. In 2018, however, the number jumped to 32,000 and then peaked in 2019 at 67,000. The number of asylum seekers has actually fallen since. The majority of these claims have occurred in Costa Rica, with significant numbers of people also seeking asylum in Spain, Mexico, Panama, and the United States. While there was an increase in border crossings in the United States during the 2018-2019 crisis, it was far below the current bump – and the situation was far more volatile then.  

As high as these numbers have been by Nicaragua’s recent standards, when compared to other countries in Central America the figures are low. The chart below shows UN data for different categories of forced migration, internal and external, in Central America for 2020. Not only is Nicaragua well below all of its northern regional neighbors concerning the number of people seeking asylum, and/or claiming refugee status, there is basically no internal displacement, and few “other” categories of concern in Nicaragua. Compare this to Honduras, for example, where internal displacement approaches 250,000 people on top of the 180,000 combined asylum and refugee claims. 

Honduras is, of course, not a standard of good governance for anyone I know. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the United States continues to tiptoe around abuse in Honduras, as well as Guatemala, (with its own new restrictive NGO law) and El Salvador (where President Bukele has been locking up opposition political figures as well). 

It is also instructive to compare the number of asylum claims vs the total number of people migrating. Doing so makes clear that asylum is not the main reason people are leaving Nicaragua – not even during the worst of the political conflict. The case of Costa Rica is somewhat unusual but still instructive. The tens of thousands of asylum claims from Nicaraguans in Costa Rica need to be viewed alongside the annual 800,000+ border crossings between Nicaragua and Costa Rica that were the norm before COVID-19 as Nicaraguans routinely sought temporary work in Costa Rica. Indeed, the majority of asylum claims in 2018 were from people already living in Costa Rica at the time of the crisis who did not want to return. They were not all people fleeing the turmoil, though clearly many did not want to be pushed into it.

Within the United States, the notable increase in Border Patrol encounters of Nicaraguans reported on by the AP and Reuters (up to 33,000 so far this fiscal year) is also dwarfed by encounters from Honduras (242,000),  Guatemala (218,000) and El Salvador (73,000). In all three cases, the numbers this year represent a dramatic increase over already high numbers from previous years. Encounters with people from Honduras are up 600% over the same time period last year, for example. In total, 1.2 million people have been encountered by Border Patrol during the current fiscal year, which doesn’t end until September 30. It is already the highest total in nearly 20 years. 

So, what we are witnessing at the US border is an increase in migration across the board from Central America, as well as Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, countries of Africa and South Asia – not just Nicaragua – and within this increase, encounters with Nicaraguans remain well below those of countries in northern Central America, much as they have for nearly two decades now. Political conflict is part of the explanation for migration from all of Central America, including Nicaragua. But it is pretty clearly far from the whole story.

So what else is going on?

From a regional perspective, there are a number of rather obvious push factors leading to an increase in migration over the last 6-12 months. So obvious, in fact, that one must wonder how they escape the investigative framework of journalists trying to isolate Nicaragua. Firstly, COVID-19 has led to a squeeze on domestic markets, disrupted international trade, and wrecked tourism, which had become a significant generator of employment for Nicaragua in particular. Secondly, there is widespread environmental devastation that is affecting nearly every corner of the globe. In Central America, this has translated into recurrent droughts, and more recently, the widespread destruction of crops by hurricanes Eta and Iota in November last year.  Less an issue in Nicaragua, but devastating in Guatemala has been the explosion of parasites that have destroyed coffee harvests – an infestation largely blamed on shifting climate patterns. 

All of these trends place added stress on people who see their livelihoods threatened or destroyed. In Nicaragua over the last two years, the government has also been under further pressure as the result of US sanctions, which have taken a bite out of multilateral financing for social programs. Even during the worst of COVID-19, the health sector in Nicaragua received nothing from the World Bank, while the Inter-American Development Bank provided only limited support. Nicaragua’s rightly celebrated gains in reducing poverty, extending free healthcare and education, investing in affordable housing and so on, are under threat as a result of all of this.  

For Nicaraguans out of work, Costa Rica has historically been a place they can go for seasonal employment in agriculture and in the service sector. This is no longer the case. Costa Rica has been hit hard by COVID-19, especially in areas like tourism. There are now more Nicaraguans returning from Costa Rica than traveling there, and overall border crossings are way down. From 800,000+ crossings, split between coming and going, in 2018 and 2019, in 2020 the number of crossings was just over 270,000, with 143,000 Nicaraguans returning, versus 130,000 going to Costa Rica. The numbers for this year are not complete, but show a similar trend.

Far from a mass exodus to escape persecution, the people who are leaving Nicaragua today are mostly escaping a context of increased impoverishment, made worse by US sanctions, COVID-19 and natural disasters. All of this, coupled with an effective shutting down of temporary work opportunities in Costa Rica, means more people are heading north. It is, thus, a huge oversimplification to identify the source of migration as people fleeing a “crackdown” while ignoring these other factors. And compared to the rest of the region, Nicaragua is still doing better.

What the simplistic narrative does do is feed into the idea that the solution to migration from Nicaragua is a change in government. The reality is quite the opposite: If we want to see an actual surge of migration from Nicaragua, increasing sanctions or employing other interventions to force a change in government is the way to do it. People throughout the region are fleeing economic collapse and political instability – far fewer from Nicaragua, where the government has done demonstrably better at providing a safety net.  So, if migration is the concern, squeezing Nicaragua further makes no sense. As it is, journalists from the US should at least be asking what the impact of US policy has on these trends, and other regional dynamics. Singling out Nicaragua in this way makes no sense.  

UPDATED Numbers, Tables showing trends for the year

Note all countries have seen a dramatic increase in FY 2021 over FY 2020. Also note that from every country there is a significant bump in February/March. This is just to make the point that the increase in migration from Nicaragua is part of a regional trend – and not a unique increase in migration.

Over all year to date


By month, by country




El Salvador

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Franciscan Network on Migration demands respect for right of migrants in Mexico

Image: Red Franciscana de Migrantes

English Translation (en Español abajo)

To the Mexican Authorities
To the National Human Rights Commission
To Franciscans International
To all people of good faith

The Franciscan Network on Migration (FNM), as well as various groups and civil organizations defending the human rights of migrants, have monitored the spontaneous detentions and deportations of migrants on August 13, 31 and September 1, 2, 7, 8 2021, carried out to the detriment of people being moved from Mcallen, Texas to Ceibo, at the Guatemalan border, as well as from different places in Mexico such as Villahermosa and Tenosique, Tabasco.

In this sense, those of us with the FNM are concerned about the various human rights violations carried out by the National Institute of Migration and the National Guard in the south of the Mexican Republic, such as persecution, massive detentions, threats, expulsion towards the southern border of Mexican territory as well as the execution of all kinds of violence against migrants regardless of their immigration status, actions aimed not only at violating their rights, but also at criminalizing them.

The immigration policy of detention and expulsion taken by the Mexican government translates into actions that do not take into account the social context of the migrant population, therefore:

  • We condemn the various forms of violence, aggression, mistreatment, family separation, detentions and illegal deportations of migrant women and their families by the National Guard and the National Migration Institute.
  • We demand that the Mexican State respect all the human rights enjoyed by migrants and asylum seekers established both by its Constitution and by various international standards.
  • We demand full respect for the human rights of defenders and journalists, who by their profession monitor and make visible the dramatic migratory situation.
  • We call on the Mexican authorities at all three levels to seek effective responses that protect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as those human rights defenders who work with them.

Franciscan Network on Migration

Original press release here

10 de septiembre de 2021

A las Autoridades de mexicanas
A la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos
A Franciscans International
A todas las personas de buena fe

La Red Franciscana para Migrantes (RFM), así como diversos colectivos y  organizaciones civiles defensoras de los derechos humanos de las personas migrantes,  hemos monitoreado desde el 13, 31 de agosto y 1, 2, 7 y 8 de septiembre de 2021, las detenciones y deportaciones en caliente en agravio de las  personas en contexto de movilidad humana desde Mcallen, Texas dirigidas al Ceibo,  Frontera de Guatemala, así como también desde diferentes lugares de México hasta  Villahermosa y Tenosique, Tabasco. 

En este sentido, desde la RFM estamos preocupados por las diversas acciones violatorias de  derechos humanos realizadas por el Instituto Nacional de Migración y la Guardia Nacional en el sur  de la República mexicana, tales como persecuciones, detenciones masivas, amenazas, expulsión  hacia la frontera sur del territorio mexicano así como la ejecución de todo tipo de violencia contra las

personas migrantes sin importar su estatus migratorio, acciones encaminadas no solo a violentar sus  derechos, sino también a criminalizarlos.  

La política migratoria de detención y expulsión tomada por el gobierno mexicano se traduce en  acciones que no toman en cuenta el contexto social de la población migrante, por lo que:

  • Condenamos las diversas formas de violencia, agresiones, maltratos, separación familiar, detenciones y deportaciones ilegales de mujeres migrantes y sus familias por parte de la Guardia Nacional y el Instituto Nacional de Migración.
  • Exigimos al Estado mexicano el respeto de todos los derechos humanos que gozan las personas migrantes y solicitantes de asilo establecido tanto por su Carta Magna, como por los diversos estándares internacionales.
  • Exigimos el respeto pleno de los derechos humanos de las personas defensoras y periodistas, quienes por su profesión monitorean y visibilizan la dramática situación migratoria.
  • Hacemos un llamado a las autoridades mexicanas en sus tres niveles a buscar respuestas efectivas que protejan los derechos humanos de las personas migrantes y solicitantes de asilo, así como de los defensores de los derechos  humanos que trabajan con ellos. 

Red Franciscana para Migrantes

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Statement of CLAMOR on crisis in Southern Mexico



Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Constitutional President of the United Mexican 

Lic. Marcelo Ebrard Casaubón

Secretaryof Foreign Affairs

Lic. Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez

Undersecretary for Human Rights, Population and Religious Affairs

The Latin American and Caribbean Ecclesial Network on Migration, Shelter, Displacement and Trafficking (CLAMOR) of the Latin American Episcopal Council, which brings together more than 600 Catholic Church organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, has seen in recent days the expansion of the operations of the National Migration Institute and the National Guard in the south of the Mexican Republic in order to contain migrants in the city of Tapachula, Chiapas.

We are aware of a profound migration crisis that is taking place on the southern border of the country, where hundreds of people from the northern countries of Central America, Cuba, Venezuela, and now a considerable number from Haiti, await a favorable resolution to their requests for refugee status, supplementary protection, or access to immigration regularization.

Overcrowding, the lack of hygiene measures, food, basic supplies, coupled with the slowness of resolutions from the National Institute of Migration and the Mexican Commission for Refugee Aid, place people in a situation of vulnerability, affecting the exercise of their fundamental rights.

Shelters, migrant houses, and soup kitchens for migrants are saturated and at the limit of their capacity; the efforts of local churches, parishes, and dioceses are being overwhelmed in the absence of a migration policy in accordance with human rights standards, strategic planning, and the scarce or non-existent resources of the Federal Government.

We strongly regret and reject the repressive, violent, and restrictive measures to contain migration on the southern border, particularly in Tapachula. These measures have been implemented on previous occasions with net negative results. For that reason, we call for alternative solutions that go beyond the short-term vision, prioritizing dialogue with migrants and civil society organizations in such a way that they can articulate responses that correspond to their needs and guarantee their human rights.

We see in the recent events at the southern border – the containment of migrants and summary deportations – measures related to the policy of externalization of the border promoted by the United States. The political decisions of both governments affect both the local population and migrants, who are left at an impasse. We are concerned that the only option for regularization of immigration status in Mexico is the application for refugee status and that free passage through the National Territory will be prevented for those who already have a favorable ruling of their legal status in Mexico.

For all of the above, we urge the competent authorities, principally the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Institute of Migration and the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, to carry out concrete actions to attend to people in the context of mobility, respecting due process and, in this way, avoiding and preventing human rights violations.

Finally, we demand that authorities at all levels respect Article 11 of the Constitution, which enshrines free passage, so that, for those who already have a legal status in Mexico, they are allowed the right to passage through the country in search of options for residence and employment that allow them to live with dignity and access to basic services.

We urge the Mexican government, faithful to its history as a people originating from many migrants, to grant clear signs of hospitality and welcome, and based on the powers granted to it by law, to establish new alternatives to regularization that allow the migrant population to have access to the human rights to which they are entitled by virtue of their dignity as persons, and in this way, contribute their richness of character to their host communities.

This crisis is at the same time an opportunity for the Mexican government to demonstrate regional leadership by responding to the challenge with respect and the guarantee of human rights. Enough with repression, the use of violence, and excessive abuse of authority; these are not just migrants, but also human beings who need an opportunity to live with dignity.

We invite the Mexican government, before repressing and containing migrants, to address the root causes that cause thousands of Mexicans to continue to live through the tragedy of displacement and to face migration in order to seek security and the conditions necessary for life in another territory, which they cannot find in their own country.

As the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, we feel deeply committed to the welcoming, protection, promotion, and integration of migrant peoples, and we reiterate our commitment to the defense and protection of their human rights. At the same time, we are ready to collaborate with the authorities in order to find humanitarian aid mechanisms coordinated toward solving this profound crisis that is taking place on the Southern border of Mexico.


+ Mons. Gustavo Rodríguez
Archbishop of Yucatán, México Presidente de la Red CLAMOR

+Alvaro Leonel Card. Ramazzini
Bishop of Huehuetenango, Guatemala

+ Mons. J. Guadalupe Torres Campos
Bishop of Cuidad Juárez, Head of the Ministry of Human Mobility Mexico

+ Guido Charboneau
Bishop of Choluteca, Head of the CLAMOR Network in Central America

[Link to original in Spanish]

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The migration crisis in southern Mexico boils over, US policy is making things worse

“What is happening is that human rights are being violated here, refugees are people who left their country because of threats. If we are here it is because we are looking for a better life. People who have papers- they can not take them, put them on a bus and take them to Guatemala, that is a violation of human rights. There are people who have one-year visitor cards, who have residency, who have a document that says Tapachula, Chiapas, those same people are grabbed and taken to Guatemala. That should not be, that is racism, that is a violation of human rights, that is why we are fighting. The caravan is for that, even though we spent a week demonstrating all day, so that we can move around and look for work, because we have to pay for a house, we have to eat, and there are people who are sleeping in the park and are looking for work all day in the rain. Women with children, pregnant women. […] the caravan is because they don’t want to make a decision with us. […] We are looking for a way to get out of Chiapas because in Chiapas there is no way to live because people are treating you like animals, your rights are being violated. So if we are refugees we are fighting so that we can get out and looking for a way to live so that we can eat. ” Haitian migrant statement to the Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Méxicano

Over the past several weeks the situation for Haitians and other migrants in southern Mexico has reached crisis proportions. Last week Haitians, many of whom had been stuck in Tapachula, Chiapas for over a year, launched protests in front of Siglo XXI, Latin America’s largest immigrant detention center. On Saturday hundreds of Haitians, joined by others from Venezuela, Central America, and Africa, left Tapachula in a caravan. Motivations varied. Many expressed the intent to reach Mexico City in the hopes of accelerating their asylum cases, and for others, the goal was simply getting out of Tapachula. 

The caravan has repeatedly been met with violence from the INM and from Mexico’s recently (2019) formed National Guard.  

Saturday, the caravan left Tapachula with people walking 41 kilometers northwest to Huixtla. Along the way, some members of the caravan were beaten and arrested. In an interesting article juxtaposing the treatment of Haitian and Central American migrants with the reception given to Afghan refugees also arriving on Saturday, Vice News reporters spoke with a few of the people whose attacks by INM appeared in cell phone footage circulating on social media. 

“If we stay here, we are going to die of hunger, and we will be sleeping on the street,” Theoburn Derino….told VICE World News. He fled Haiti because of violence and political conflict, and had spent a month in Tapachula before trying to make his way to Mexico City. “I just want to find a place where I can work, and where my daughter can sleep peacefully.”   

INM issued a press release condemning some of the actions that had been caught on film. But the attacks did not stop.

Sunday, the caravan continued from Huixtla to Escuintla, and then onto Mapastepec. Along the road near Sesecapa, anti-riot trucks and INM busses were spotted. Then around 3:00 p.m. on the road section between Ruiz Cortínez and Mapstepec, an anti-riot team from the National Guard was mobilized alongside elements of INM and attempted to trap the caravan between temporary fencing. About half were arrested. Some of those who made it to Mapastepec were attacked Tuesday morning, arrested and detained. From Colectivo de Observación y Monitoreo de Derechos Humanos en el Sureste Méxicano (COMDHSM):

In less than 20 minutes, they dismantled the small camp. Those who were not detained sought shelter in houses, premises and the Catholic Church; the elements of GN and INM followed them and, in some cases, entered to apprehend them. Approximately 80% of the people in this group were apprehended, leaving their belongings behind and without knowing their whereabouts.

While the INM was beating and arresting refugees in Mapastepec, the government was proposing establishing “humanitarian camps” for Haitian migrants, and trying to enlist the support of the church office on migration – which opposes this.  The Dimensión Episcopal de Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana (DEPMH) of the Episcopal Conference of Mexico is calling instead for the regularization of migrant status, and respecting their freedom of mobility. Likewise COMDHSM is demanding that the government respect the rights of migrants, and provide humanitarian support. In their statement issued on September 1, 2021, they write:

  • Humanitarian aid is urgent to attend to people, in particular pregnant women, children and adolescents who walk. There is not enough water or food, and the absence of instances that provide medical attention stands out. This is aggravated as people have been walking for several days.
  • We denounce the strong presence of the National Guard, the Mexican Army and the National Migration Institute and their absolutely disproportionate and violent action towards people in order to encapsulate and detain them at different points along the way.
  • We demand the cessation of surveillance, harassment and attacks on human rights defenders and the press
  • There is concern about the impact of these violent detentions on people who also forcibly left their countries seeking protection and a dignified life.
  • We demand an end to the abuse of power and acts of repression against people.

Underlying the crisis is ongoing pressure from the Biden administration on Mexico, as well as countries in Central America, to stop as many migrants from reaching the US/Mexico border as possible. This, coupled with the Biden administration’s new strategy of expelling Central Americans and others via plane to Tapachula and Villahermos under Title 42, most of whom eventually end up being expelled by INM to Guatemala, has created a humanitarian disaster in southern Mexico.

Indeed, the mobilizations over the last week by Hatiain migrants was the result of Haitians with asylum claims pending in Mexico being removed to Guatemala anyway amidst this new wave of expulsions.  

The Mexican government has a backlog of 80,000 asylum claims. The government is being pushed by the United States to limit mobility in order to keep people in Mexico, while also being pressed by a dramatic increase in the numbers of people migrating north as the result of a combination of ongoing political instability and COVID-19 induced economic recession. The result of all of this is that people are forced to wait in cramped, unsanitary conditions for months, and for some over a year.

From Dallas Morning News Spanish editor AlDiaDallas:

Haitians now make up the second largest group of people seeking asylum in Mexico. Only Hondurans have a higher number of claims. Yet, much like in the United States, Haitian claims to asylum in Mexico are denied at a much higher rate than other countries. It is creating an untenable situation for people – who are clearly now desperate to leave Tapachula.

We certainly join in the call for the Mexican government to stop the violence against migrants, and to establish an alternative path for people to regularize migration status. However, we equally denounce the Biden administration’s ongoing support for Title 42 expulsions, the new policy of removals to southern Mexico, and ongoing pressure this administration has asserted on countries from Mexico to Colombia, to detain migrants on their journey north. The administration’s stated goal of creating a “Collaborative Migration Management Strategy” with countries in Central America and Mexico is currently looking more like a coordinated war on migrants than an effort to instill collaborative and humane policy processes.

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