The following is a translation of a statement by our partners at the Franciscan Network on Migration on the tragedy in Texas, in which 53 migrants were found dead. To read the original statement in Spanish, click HERE.
To the Governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Honduras, the United States of America
To any person in good faith.
Migration should be the flight for the dream of life, not death
In Texas, on June 29, 2022, the heat, overcrowding, and lack of oxygen ended the lives of more than 50 migrants abandoned in a trailer that was transporting them as they searched for better living conditions; human beings who were forced to leave their country of origin because of injustice and high rates of violence, events that found them in other lands.
The Franciscan Network for Migrants (RFM) declares our indignation and dismay at the human tragedy experienced by migrants in the territories not only of Northern America, but also in Mexico. Countries whose principles are the “Republic and democracy” as institutions that safeguard the freedom and life of society. We join in the pain that these families are experiencing; with you, we share our prayers and solidarity.
As they intend to renew policies and practices that criminalize and affect the human rights of every person who migrates, it is urgent that the countries of Central America and Mexico react to move from containment to protection. In the current regional scenario, vulnerable migrants do not have many options to leave, transit, and reach their destinations safely. This leads them to seek paths that put their human dignity, integrity, health, and, in many cases, even their lives at risk.
As RFM, we call on the competent authorities of the United States to thoroughly investigate the facts and find those responsible for this unfortunate tragedy, as well as to work to eradicate human trafficking. The situation also reflects how xenophobic-racist guidelines and practices only benefit organized crime networks. We condemn the impunity for the various crimes of which migrants are victims.
We also demand that the governments of the United States of America, Mexico, and the countries of Central America respond to the commitment assumed by different human rights standards to guarantee the effective protection of the human rights of migrants, as well as their fundamental freedoms.
As Christians and Franciscans, we firmly believe in the dignity of every human being; that the encounter between cultures and groups enriches us; that justice, equity, and freedom are the basis for fraternity or “social friendship” between peoples; that the stranger is to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated into our societies, as God himself would do (Deuteronomy 19:34). St. Francis of Assisi was a friend and brother to all living people, no one was his enemy or considered him a “foreigner”; we have a political and spiritual legacy that recognizes that both human beings and creatures from one family, that we live in the same house which is “our Sister, Mother Earth.”
In these moments of solidarity of all peoples, as the RFM we continue to accompany migrants and their families who leave, transit, or seek to reside in the lands of the Americas: with our prayers, we unite ourselves to their pain.
Franciscan Network on Migration
The Franciscan Network on Migration is a network composed of:
The Frontera Digna Shelter, Piedras Negras; Comedor San Francisco de Asís para Migrantes, Mazatlán; Casa Franciscana Guaymas A.C; Team Hogar Franciscano, Cholula, Puebla; La 72, Hogar Refugio para personas Migrantes, Tenosique; Casa Peregrina del Migrante “Santo Hermano Pedro”, Guatemala; Equipo RFM-Guatemala; Equipo RFM-Honduras; Equipo RFM-El Salvador; Equipo RFM-Panamá; Equipo RFM-Colombia; Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de Durham; Carolina del Norte (USA); Migrantes Center of New York. Advocacy partners: Quixote Center, Franciscans International.
SCOTUS Ruling on “Remain in Mexico” Win for Migrant Communities, but Must Not Lead to Increased Detention
Washington D.C.—Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Biden Administration was lawful in its initial termination of the “Remain in Mexico” program, thus allowing for the Administration to finally end the cruel and inhumane policy.
The Quixote Center celebrates this ruling as a win, but we must not forget the over 71,000 people who have been forced to await their asylum cases in Mexico, including vulnerable populations such as LGBTQ+ migrants and those with severe health conditions.
The “Remain in Mexico” policy has imposed irreversible harm on migrant communities. During the Trump Administration, there were at least 1,544 reported cases of violent attacks against people returned to Mexico, including murder, torture, and assault. Under Biden, the program has not been any safer and has continued to block asylum seekers from accessing legal counsel or obtaining a fair chance at asylum.
We urge the Biden Administration to immediately end “Remain in Mexico” and allow all enrolled in the program to await their cases in the United States. However, this policy must not and cannot be replaced with increased detention, expulsion, and surveillance of migrant families and asylum seekers in the United States. Instead, we urge the Administration to invest in opt-in community-based support services that offer migrants the tools to thrive, rather than continue the cycle of cruelty and suffering.
The Quixote Center empowers vulnerable families and communities to become the artisans of their own destiny through transforming oppressive systems and structures. Inspired by liberation theology and Catholic Social Teaching, we do this through sustainable development, advocacy, economic justice, environmental, and educational initiatives. Our current focus is on Nicaragua and Haiti, where we support programs to empower impoverished families and communities, and support for migrants in Mexico and Central America, where we work to mitigate the damage of US immigration policies. Together with our partners, we dream of a world more justly loving.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio promoted his policy ideas for Haiti in a recent op-ed. He called out the Biden Administration for a failure to fully engage what Rubio calls a looming crisis of political collapse and unauthorized migration. Rubio’s arguments are similar to other recent opinion pieces in The Washington Post and elsewhere, calling on the administration to “do more!”
What does doing more mean? It means more guns and more investment, the dual pillars of US foriegn policy everywhere in the world. The Rubio version goes like this: Biden should be…
…following the advice that US Senator Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, and I gave to the government to strengthen Haiti’s national police to fight criminal gangs. It means being open to another UN peacekeeping mission. It means expanding the Inter-American Development Bank’s investments in Haitian infrastructure. And it means building closer economic ties between our country and Haiti, as my Haitian Economic Development Program Extension Act would do by guaranteeing jobs and trade benefits for Haiti’s textile industry.
One of the most problematic components of what is becoming a bipartisan consensus on Haiti’s future is the idea to create a better investment environment for the companies that sew garments for US clothing brands in Haiti. Low taxes, no export fees, and cheap labor.
This point is raised not to criticize Rubio, at least no more than anybody else who advances sweatshops as a critical element in the solution to a crisis. Remember that former President Clinton promoted a massive industrial park for sweatshops as the largest USAID project in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Farmers living in the zone were displaced, the housing created for workers was substandard, and environmental concerns have largely been set aside. But the park is now open, paying exploitation-level wages to struggling families and communities. As a result, Haiti’s stabilization is further from reality than ever.
If you go to your closet, or to your chest of drawers, there is probably something in there made in Haiti. Which is to say, in the US we all benefit from such “stabilization” plans for Haiti, as well as such plans for other countries of the Global South, which do not ultimately provide stability, but do provide less expensive garments.
What does this development strategy translate to in reality? Abuse.
The garment industry is rife with human rights violations that go beyond the miserable wages paid. The industry is structured to maximize productivity in a process that can not be mechanized. Sewing a tee-shirt still requires someone to actually do it. Fancy sewing machines only get you so far. Maximizing productivity frequently means putting considerable pressure on workers, such as limiting bathroom breaks, punishing striking workers, and raising the minimum number of garments needed to qualify for overtime. The more insecure the environment, the higher the level of abuse.
For women, who make up the majority of sweatshop labor in Haiti, this also means sexual abuse at the hands of supervisors. From the Guardian,
Female garment factory workers the Guardian spoke to confirm that to get a job – which has become harder because so many people are looking for work – women are expected to have sex with a male manager.
“If you don’t accept to have sex with the manager, your application will be rejected,” one worker says, adding that she works on a line that produces 3,600 T-shirts a day. “You must oblige or you won’t have a job, and also if you want a promotion, you must have sex with your supervisor.”
Previous iterations of saving Haiti via the sweatshop, e.g., the HOPE Act, mandated that monitoring systems be put into place to ensure respect for the rights of workers. It is clear that the system does not work. Monitoring is done by Better Work Haiti and funded by the World Bank, and International Labor Rights Organization. This raises the contradiction of workers having to rely on external monitoring systems rather than their own empowered, worker organizations. Better Work Haiti does report on problems in the factories, but has also under-reported sexual harrassment, in part because women are afraid to report.
Senator Rubio is likely correct that Haiti is on the brink of collapse. He is not correct that this is because Biden is doing too little, as the Administration seems content to support the current acting government no matter how bad things get, rather than risk stepping back to give space for a more progressive, Haitian-led democratic process. And more guns and more sweatshops will not help.
Of course, industrial growth in Haiti could be a tremendous benefit, but only if that process is undertaken to serve Haitians, and to ensure that workers are in control of their destiny. That is simply not going to happen when the entire orientation of the policy is appeasing US corporations and consumers, who usually simply want cheap.
Sports teams and entertainers frequently, if unwittingly, find themselves on the same planes that have been (or will become) the site of human rights violations. Should they care? We think so.
A new report from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights released this week documents human rights abuses that occur on removal flights carried out for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Using plane tail numbers, the authors of Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry are able to show that the very same planes are used to shepherd college athletic programs, professional sports teams and entertainers around the country.
The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights has become one of the leading investigative entities uncovering the contractual relationships that constitute the infrastructure of ICE Air Operations. Their 2019 report, Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation, is one of the clearest explanations of ICE Air Operations one might find. Available here. It is definitely worth your time.
The first thing to know is that ICE Air Operations does not own its own planes. ICE Air Operations does not even directly manage their own flight scheduling. A private company handles the whole operational side of managing ICE Air Operation’s flights. Currently Classic Air Charters holds the contract to manage ICE Air Operation’s flights, a contract worth $740 million plus over a 5-year period, with a ton of contingencies to bump that number up.
Classic Air Charters subcontracts with other private carriers to actually conduct the flights. Swift Air/iAero has received the bulk of subcontracted flights in recent years. Other carriers include World Atlantic Airlines, Global Crossing Airline and Omni Air. For example, of the 36 removal flights to Haiti that happened in May of this year, 21 were on Swift Air/iAero charters, 6 were on World Atlantic Airlines, 6 were on Global Crossing, and 3 were Omni.
Deporting migrants and/or flying them between cities within the United States is the product of US policy and appropriations. ICE Air Operations is a public entity spending tax dollars to implement its program. And yet, like the for-profit immigrant detention industry, ICE Air operates with minimal accountability, and seems to require little from the corporations that implement their program.
The entire operational side of ICE Air is shrouded in secrecy. ICE Air Operations shares the average cost “per flight hour” on their website, for example, but it is almost impossible to find out what was actually paid for an individual flight, or to view the contracts between Classic Air Charters and its subcontractors. This is a problem, since ICE operational standards do not automatically apply to corporate contractors, unless specified in the contract.
The result is a system in which the violation of civil and human rights is commonplace.
Human rights violations and the charter business
Abuses in the Air: Sports Travel and the Deportation Industry identifies systemic violation of human rights that occur as a result of the way the United States government/ICE manages deporations. They include the denial of non-refoulement, torture, denial of due process, and double punishment. The companies that profit from deportation flights are thus implicated in the underlying systemic human rights violations that would not occur absent their complicity. In some cases, such as physical abuse and torture that occur during the flights, these companie are directly the agents of the violations.
The report makes clear that these companies, indeed using the very same planes, facilitate human rights violations, and then move the seats around in order to fly your daughter’s college volleyball team to a national tournament, or your favorite pro-team around the country. For example, consider this example of the violation of non-refoulement.
Image from Abuse in the Air report
All of our lives are implicated in the labyrinthine network of business relationships that make immigration enforcement profitable, and thus, so difficult to regulate. Who, at this point, has not ordered from Amazon, or watched a video on Prime? Amazon is part owner of the Air Transport Services Group, which manages Omni Air. Almost everybody has done business, as a consumer or partner, with a company financed by the Blackstone Group, which holds a majority stake in iAero, as well as dating apps, health service companies, and cyber security firms.
All of these connections are mystified by secret deals, and layers of contractual relationships. Are you to blame for deportation violence because you watched the last season of Bosch on Freevee? No. But we can’t escape the fact that profits from these human rights violations are woven throughout our economy and we need to make ourselves more aware of this fact. The authors write,
The secrecy that surrounds deportation flights have allowed too many of us to distance ourselves from the abuse funded with our tax dollars; understanding the connections between our government, air charter companies, and some of the most well known institutions in our midst may help us begin to unravel these knots, untangling our complicity in the practices that draw profit from migrants’ pain.
As the US government refuses to hold subcontractors responsible, and the carriers have no incentive to police themselves, it is up to all of us to speak out against this abuse. We think that sports teams, entertainers, and others who use private charters should also take a stand not to use the same companies that ICE contracts with, until there is an end to abuse on these planes.
IOM Figures, end of May 2022 report. The figure of 25,806 returned from the United States includes Coast Guard repatriations – in addition to flights.
There has been a brief, no doubt temporary, respite from the expulsion of people back to Haiti under Title 42 this week. There was one removal flight to Haiti on Tuesday, which seems to have been “regular” deportations (people removed under normal immigration processing authority, or Title 8). The temporary reprieve is possibly due to the Summit of the Americas taking place in Los Angeles, where a new regional compact on migration is supposed to be announced. Certainly there has been no public commitment from the Biden administration to slow or halt expulsions to Haiti (you can sign our petition demanding a moratorium on removals to Haiti here). In May, the Biden administration expelled over 4,000 Haitians on 36 flights.
The flight this Tuesday (June 7) was the Biden administration’s 268th expulsion flight to Haiti – 231 of which have taken place just since September 19, 2021 when the current wave of mass deportations began. Since September, over 24,000 Haitians have been expelled by air, including families . According to the International Organization on Migration’s office in Haiti, 20% of those expelled from the United States have been children.
In addition to flights, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Haitians interdicted at sea. The US Coast Guard has captured and returned 5,300 Haitians since the beginning of the current fiscal year (October 1, 2021). As the Miami Heraldnotes, the actual numbers of Haitians leaving by boat is unknown, as the voyages are often deadly. Many of the people leaving by boat are not trying to come to the United States, but more often to neighboring Caribbean islands. One result is that expulsions from those destinations have increased as well. Cuba, for example, has returned 1,300 Haitians so far this year, the Bahamas, 1,600.
At the US/Mexico border, confusion reigns. Title 42 is not ending soon. A federal court issued a temporary injunction against the Center for Disease Control and Prevention decision to end Title 42 two weeks ago. Title 42 will end eventually, of course, but it has become a political football, with state leaders using it to bludgeon Biden in courts, and Senate Republicans and some Democrats trying to force a vote on it as a precondition for passing COVID relief (though this strategy may now be on hold). The context here is the midterm elections, which also corresponds with gubernatorial races in many states – including Texas and Arizona.
New asylum processing rules were implemented by the Biden administration this week expanding the use of expedited removal. The new procedures are intended to speed up the process of making asylum decisions. There is deep concern that in doing so, the new rules will limit the ability of people to find representation and build their asylum cases. This means fewer approvals alongside an abbreviated appeals process. More than anything, however, the transition from Trump to Biden continues to be marred by mass confusion about what the rules actually are at the border.
People from Haiti, and many other countries, are currently waiting in Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, Juarez and other border cities confused about when or if to come into the United States. This week the dangers of this were magnified by the murder of a Haitian migrant in Tijuana and the death of another man who was unable to get medical treatment as he was having a heart attack.
Finally, as noted above, the Summit of the Americas is happening this week and there is to be a much anticipated announcement concerning new commitments toward collaboration on regional migration. The two pillars of this agreement seem to be 1.) searching for temporary working opportunities for migrants, and 2.) expanding enforcement throughout the region. As I am writing, the migration declaration has not been finalized, but is expected to include provisions to expand temporary work programs for Haitians in Canada.
Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Snapshot | March – June 2022 (Projection update)
At least 4.5 million people in Haiti, or 45% of the population, are facing acute hunger. As the war in Ukraine drags on, the number is certain to go up. Prices for food are spiking everywhere, with the cost of fuel adding to the pain. The immediate crisis in Haiti is thus symptomatic of global stressors largely outside the control of the people of the country. From a longer term point of view, the food crisis in Haiti has deep roots in years of exploitation.
For many US Americans, the New York Times recent series of articles on Haiti was their first encounter with this history of exploitation. The centerpiece of the Times’ analysis was a discussion of the so-called “independence debt” demanded by the French government, some twenty years after Haiti won its independence in 1804. In 1825, the French government demanded 150 million francs as an indemnity to recompense property owners, including those who previously “owned” enslaved Haitians, who lost their holdings as a result of the revolution. Under threat of a naval bombardment by French warships, Haiti’s president agreed to pay.
Haiti could only pay this ransom by borrowing from French banks at usurious interest rates, creating a “double debt.” The authors of the Times’ series argue that paying off this debt cost Haiti the equivalent $21 billion over the years, money that might have otherwise gone to infrastructure and the financing of local industry. Indeed, the independence debt was not paid off until 1947. The final installments were not to French banks, but to the National City Bank of New York, the predecessor to CitiGroup, which had assumed the remaining portion of Haiti’s “double debt.” It also assumed control of Haiti’s national bank, in a process that began in 1909 and culminated during the US occupation of Haiti (1915-1934).
As the New York Times shows, Haiti’s current troubles have grown in the context of these fertile fields of exploitation. It is the uncomfortable truth that the wealth of European and US American financiers today derives in no small part from the historic impoverishment of Haiti, and the Caribbean more generally. Indeed, the entire edifice of 19th century imperialism still casts a long shadow over the poverty of countries throughout the global south. Haiti’s story is unique in the degree of exploitation; it has been the cost imposed on Haitians as the result of a successful social revolution led by enslaved peoples, the only such revolution in history. However, Haiti’s story is part of a global tale of ongoing theft.
To this day, countries of the global south transfer more wealth to the global north in the form of profit repatriations, tax evasion, unequal exchanges from labor exploitation, debt repayments and historic trade imbalances, than flows the other way in the form of direct investment, “aid” and new lending. It’s not even close. Studies have shown repeatedly the net resource transfers from “developing” to “developed” countries recently comes to $2 trillion a year. One study, published in New Political Economy last year, concluded that the “drain from the South remains a significant feature of the world economy in the post-colonial era; rich countries continue to rely on imperial forms of appropriation to sustain their high levels of income and consumption.” The scale of the plunder is extraordinary. From 1960 to 2018, they found, the “drain from the South totalled $62 trillion (constant 2011 dollars), or $152 trillion when accounting for lost growth.”
Debt and the destruction of Haitian agriculture
What do these global and historic trends mean in concrete terms for Haiti today? People are hungry, the government can no longer govern, and gangs are profligate.
Sandra Wisner’s recently published study, Starved for Justice: International Complicity in Systematic Violations of the Right to Food in Haiti outlines in detail the role of USAID, and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, in enforcing policy prescriptions on Haiti that devastated local food production. These policies are a continuation of the patterns of exploitation set in place in 1825, but with the United States, not France, as the primary perpetrator.
The story of rice is the best known example, although not the only one. “[I]n 1985, Haiti produced 163,296 tons of rice and less than 5% (7,337 tons) of all rice consumed was imported from the United States. But in the last decade alone, Haiti’s rice imports have increased by nearly 150 million metric tons. In 2020, Haiti imported almost $245 million worth of United States produced rice, making the country the third largest market for North American rice after Japan and Mexico.”
This change from consumption of Haitian rice to US imported rice was facilitated by a reduction in tariffs for rice, from 50% to 3% in 1994. The lowering of agricultural tariffs was part of a bundle of reforms that also included cuts to public sector spending, including slashing support credits for rural farmers, and adopting a floating exchange rate. All of these reforms were mandated by international financial institutions as part of structural adjustment programs, which were in turn imposed on Haiti to facilitate the payment of debts to international creditors.
Between 1986 and today, Haiti’s economy and resulting social relations have been utterly transformed by the decline of agricultural production. In the waning years of the Duvalier dictatorship, Haiti’s population remained largely a rural one. Twenty-four percent of Haiti’s population, representing 1.56 million people, lived in cities in 1986. Today, the percentage is 57% of the population, or 6.55 million people, who live in cities.
This quadrupling of the urban population in just 36 years has been wholly unsustainable. Indeed, the consequences of insecure housing, lack of services, and impoverishment became quite clear when Port au Prince was struck by an earthquake in 2010. Public health scholar, Jean Carmalt, wrote, “When the earthquake struck on January 12, 2010, there were approximately 2.7 million people living in the city, with an additional 75,000 new migrants arriving in the city every year. About 85% of those migrants moved into informal or illegal settlements.” An estimated 300,000 people died in the earthquake, an unprecedented toll clearly driven by overcrowding and insecure housing. Despite the evident stress on the city’s capacity to support the population then, there are nearly 700,000 more people living in the metro area today than in 2011. This overcrowding is in large part a result of the ongoing devastation of the rural economy.
Formal employment in Haiti (jobs with set wages or a salary) was about 11.5% of the working age population (15 years +) in 2016, with total employment for the same age group at 68%. This means a third of the population over 15 years of age is without work, and the vast majority of the people with jobs are in highly insecure situations in the informal economy. A clear outgrowth of rapid urbanization coupled with such low employment opportunities has been the explosive formation of criminal gangs over the last 20 years and their alliances with competing political and economic elites. These gangs now control large swaths of the country, including major transportation routes in and out of Port au Prince.
Employment rates in rural areas are even lower. People with land are wholly dependent on what they can grow and get to market to survive. For others living in small rural communities, they either find what work they can on local farms, or migrate to cities. The opportunities are, in either case, slim. It is not surprising that gangs have now expanded into rural communities as well. In one case, a gang in the extended “family” of the notorious 400 Mawozo gang based in Croix des Bouquet, took over several small villages north of Pandou. Families displaced by the gang actually have to pay “tax” now in order to return and tend their farms during the day.
None of this is the result of “natural” market forces. Rather, the crisis is the result of specific policies imposed on the country that maintain historic forms of pillage. The New York Times series helps us understand how much of this started; but we should all understand that it is ongoing.
Food security requires food sovereignty
Moving into summer this year, with gas prices soaring, and a devalued exchange rate eating away at people’s purchasing power, hunger is widespread in Haiti. Every section of the country is facing at least “crisis” levels of food insecurity, with several departments moving into emergency levels, including the West department (Port au Prince). The World Food Program is estimating 1.3 million people are in need of urgent food assistance.
The playbook for such a crisis tends to have a short term view. Food is brought in from the United States, and either given away, or monetized at levels that undercut local food production. Food aid has long been a means for large US-based agricultural producers to offload surplus production at a profit; e.g. they sell it to the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, which then transfers the food as “aid” to the World Food Program, or non-governmental organizations like Catholic Relief Services.
A result is that a short-term solution to the looming food crisis in Haiti runs the risk of becoming part of the longer-term problem of declining food production, dependence on imported food and the ancillary effects of all of this on society.
At this point it is tempting to point to “the solution.” That would be more than a bit presumptuous. Yet, any solution to the crisis of food insecurity clearly requires supporting the revitalization of agriculture, and in ways that augment food production. If Haiti is to become food secure, it must become food sovereign.
Any expansion of production must be done with longer term sustainability in mind, employing a mix of reforestation, food produce, and animal husbandry such that soils can be replenished, and local rain patterns can return to a semblance of predictability. Tariffs would have to be reset at levels that offset dumping of agricultural products from the United States and elsewhere.
Before any of this can happen at a scale necessary to turn the crisis around, public policy in Haiti must be reoriented toward protecting Haiti’s long-term interests, not the interests of transnational banks, US corporations or non-governmental organizations. In the medium term, however, we can support programs that build up local capacity for food production in sustainable ways.
This is the work of our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, where the staff coordinate with small farmer associations to organize educational programs and provide direct material support for projects that boost local productive capacity. They work with farmers throughout the process of planting, tending, harvesting and marketing their produce in all eight communal sections of Gros Morne. Scaling up such programs is a priority for our work in Haiti.
We must also continue to press the United States government to change its policies. The United States government exercises an oversized degree of control in Haiti, and does not do so with the interests of the majority of Haitians in mind. Haiti is still struggling for its independence, and we, in the United States, are part of the problem. We can do better. We must do better.
Between October 1, 2021 and April 30, 2022, the US Border Patrol encountered a number equivalent to 1 out of every 69 Nicaraguans trying to get into the United States – a higher portion relative to population than any other country in Central America this year. “Encounter” refers to someone apprehended for attempting to enter the United States in an unauthorized manner, or deemed inadmissible at a port of entry, or anyone expelled under Title 42 authority.
Border Patrol Encounters Nicaragua
The number of Border Patrol encounters with people from Nicaragua stands at 92,037 this fiscal year (between Oct 1 and April 30). The total for all of FY 2021 was 50,722. There were only 3,164 encounters from Nicaragua in FY 2020. Adjusted relative to population, the number of people from Nicaragua the US Border Patrol has encountered so far this year represents the largest group from Central America. [Encounters as a percent of population in FY 2022 = 1.45% for Nicaragua, 1.124% for Honduras, 0.76% for Guatemala, and 0.90% for El Salvador.]*
For anyone trying to get into the United States, Border Patrol processes them under either Title 8 or Title 42 authorities. Title 42 refers to an order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that permitted the Trump and Biden administrations to summarily expel anyone encountered by Border Patrol. This order effectively denies asylum to anyone crossing between ports of entry, and also denies asylum and other humanitarian relief at ports of entry.
When Title 42 first went into effect in March of 2020, Mexico refused to accept people being expelled unless they were Mexican nationals, or from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. As a result most Nicaraguans were processed under Title 8. Title 8 simply means they are processed under “normal” (pre-Title 42) authority.
Entering under Title 8 authority does not mean Nicaraguans will get to stay. Most will be detained, or enrolled in an ankle monitoring program, while they await hearings, and most of them will eventually be deported. For example, of all Nicaraguan asylum claims processed from 2001 to 2021, an average of 29% were granted. In recent years the percentage of approvals is up, but the total number of cases is way down as immigration courts are seriously backlogged. In FY 2021, the US granted 43% of asylum claims from Nicaragua, but the total number of cases considered was 446.
Many people seeking asylum from Nicaragua are also redirected to wait in Mexico. Nicaraguans make up 73% of enrollments in the revamped Migrant Protection Protocol (“Remain in Mexico”). Processing under Title 8 authority has never been easy, and this has certainly not changed for the better during COVID. Indeed, in preparation for the possible end of Title 42, the Biden administration is looking to expand expedited removal, and give “credible fear” screening authority to agents at the border, which does not bode well for people trying to stay in the country no matter where they are from. Finally, the Biden administration recently negotiated an agreement with Mexico to accept Nicaraguans expelled under Title 42. The current agreement is limited in scope; it totals about 60 people a day (which still adds up to 1,800 people a month). This could expand depending on what the courts ultimately decide about Title 42’s future.
Some reason why
So, for the first time in many, many years, an increase in migration from Nicaragua to the United States is outpacing other countries in Central America relative to population – in absolute terms, the number of people from Nicaragua has already surpassed El Salvador and is not far behind Honduras and Guatemala. There is no single reason, of course. And it is difficult to assign a weight to various causes. But we can discuss what some of the factors are, and what might be unique in the case of Nicaragua versus other countries in Central America.
Political instability in Nicaragua is the only reason ever given much weight in US media accounts of Nicaraguan migration. While this is certainly a part of the reason for the increase, it is very far from the whole story. Indeed, political instability is hardly a factor unique to Nicaragua. Political repression and social violence is still far worse in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. If Nicaragua is outpacing its neighbors in migration right now, it is not due to more political instability.
Economic stress from COVID-19 is no doubt part of the equation, as it is for much of Latin America. Indeed, Border Patrol encounters are up across the board, to the highest levels in 20 years. That said, while Nicaragua has been battered like the rest of the region, its economy is in recovery. So, economic retraction from COVID would not be worse for Nicaraguans than the rest of Central America – though sanctions complicate this picture.
The factors that are unique to Nicaragua viz other countries in Central America are: 1) US sanctions; 2) the decline in opportunities for seasonal migration to Costa Rica; 3) as noted above, the fact that until April of this year, Nicaraguans have mostly been de facto exempted from Title 42 at the US border.
US sanctions against Nicaragua have taken two forms: individual sanctions against members of the government and their families; and generalized sanctions in the form of restrictions placed on multilateral loans. Forty-one people have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in Nicaragua. It is difficult to know what impact this has on the economy, but certainly many of the people involved are in positions of authority in government, which would disqualify them from joint ventures with US based business interests. Generalized sanctions hit at the same time as COVID-19. The World Bank issued no new loans to Nicaragua between March of 2018 and November of 2020, and the IDB offered few new loans until a COVID support program of $43 million in the summer of 2020 – compare that to $1.8 billion in new lending to El Salvador during the first 7 months of 2020, including $300 million to address COVID.
The easing of some multilateral lending on humanitarian grounds after hurricanes struck Central America in November of 2020 led the United States to impose further monitoring on these loans, a provision included in a new round of sanctions called the Renacer Act passed in November last year. Renacer also directs the Biden administration to investigate the removal of Nicaragua from the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Whether or not the United States would impose trade sanctions at this level (or even if it can take such unilateral action) the discussion of such an outcome might chill investment.
What all of this has meant for Nicaragua’s economy and employment is hard to disaggregate from the overall chilling effect of COVID-19. In recent months the country has seen growth in the economy. Would this recovery be more robust absent sanctions? Probably. Certainly sanctions have not helped. What we can say with some certainty, however, is that from the standpoint of US policy, sanctions have backfired, having likely contributed to an increase in immigration, and led to Nicaragua’s re-engagement with China, which was announced by Nicaragua shortly after the signing into law of the Renacer Act. Meanwhile, Ortega shows no signs of going anywhere. Calls for even more sanctions in response seem quite short-sighted.
When I wrote about migration from Nicaragua last October, an important dynamic in the increase in people heading north was the decline in people heading south – to Costa Rica. In 2020 and 2021 net migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica was negative. The reduction was stark, from 800,000+ border crossing annually pre-COVID, to just 270,000 in 2020, with 143,000 Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua, vs 130,000 traveling to Costa Rica. From August 2020 to September of 2021 the number of crossing was down to 170,000, again with more Nicaraguans returning to Nicaragua than traveling to Costa Rica. In short, Costa Rica’s economic woes have largely closed off the economy to Nicaraguans migrating there for seasonal work, and the decline in opportunity in Costa Rica, has as its corollary, more migration toward the United States.
The impact of Nicaraguans being left out of Title 42 expulsions is harder to know. Anecdotally, I have heard from a number of people in Nicaragua that the word on the street is Nicaraguans are “getting in” to the United States. People migrating are also coming from all walks of life, and all political affiliations – it is not just the poor, and certainly not only people from opposition neighborhoods. There seems to be a general understanding that Nicaraguans will have an easier time at the border than other Central Americans, and that may be a factor in encouraging more people to try and migrate. As noted above, however, nothing is easy here. The Biden administration has already looked to increase expulsions of Nicaraguans to Mexico, and if Title 42 remains the policy, as it appears it will for the next few months, those numbers may increase.
It is difficult to draw firm conclusions about which factors weigh most heavily. Economic stress seems to be a major part of the big picture here (impacts of COVID-19, sanctions, employment issues) as they are for most of the region, even as a rough recovery is underway. Certainly some of the increase is people seeking asylum from ongoing political conflict. The United States government should reconsider its policy of sanctions – which has thus far only exacerbated tensions. Turning Nicaragua into a meso-American version of Venezuela by levying more and more sanctions, including trade restrictions as some have advocated, would be a disaster. Finally, US border policy remains an inchoate mess – leading to misinformation and much confusion. For Nicaraguans, and everybody else at our border, creating a humane, sensible process for screening and evaluation is what is needed.
Quixote Center Denounces Preliminary Injunction on Title 42; Continues Call for Restoration of Asylum
Washington D.C.—Today a federal court in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction against the Biden administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to end Title 42. This decision means that the United States Border Patrol is required to continue to expel migrants immediately upon encounter, thus, denying refugees access to asylum or other humanitarian relief.
“We are greatly dismayed by the court’s decision to continue to deny asylum seekers their right to seek safety,” stated the Quixote Center in response. “Title 42 is a failed policy that has been proven to do nothing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, nor has it been effective at deterring migration. There have been 1,934,097expulsions under Title 42 since it went into effect in March of 2020.”
On April 1, 2021, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the controversial set of public health rules used to close off asylum access would be ended on May 23, 2022.
In response, the attorneys general of Louisiana, Arizona, and Missouri immediately filed a lawsuit to block the Biden administration from halting Title 42 enforcement. Eventually, seventeen more states joined the suit. U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays of Louisiana issued an injunction in April intended to keep the Biden administration from winding down Title 42 enforcement. Judge Summerhays issued the ruling today, arguing that “the Plaintiff States have established a substantial likelihood of success based on the CDC’s failure to comply with the rulemaking requirements of the [Administrative Procedure Act].”
“Keeping the cruel and illegal Title 42 policy in place will only serve to place migrant families and adults back into the dangerous conditions they are fleeing,” continued the Quixote Center. “Asylum is a universal human right, and we will not stop working to restore an asylum system that welcomes people fleeing violence and persecution in a humane and dignified manner.”
At 6 AM on a Wednesday, I joined community organizers and volunteers outside Union Station to greet migrants bused from the US-Mexico border to Washington DC. I expected everyone to arrive haggard and exhausted, as I feel after just a few hours on a bus. Instead, they came bright-faced and smiling, exuberant to have arrived.
A month ago, Governor Abbott of Texas began sending buses of migrants from the Southern border to DC, in an effort to “take the border to Joe Biden.” While the move may have scored him a few political points with his typical base, it has had far from the intended effect, as DC groups—and the larger community—mobilized rapidly to welcome them.
I met a woman from Nicaragua who was excited to be in DC and hoped to stay and find work in the District. A young couple from Venezuela was headed to Ohio, where they planned to find treatment for their pregnant sister-in-law. A father from Cuba had come on his own and was already searching for a way to support himself and his family back home.
During the legal orientation, a representative asked if they had received a cellphone. Everyone there raised a black device, the basis of claims that the administration was “giving away free smartphones.” However, these were part of the so-called “alternatives to detention,” another method of invasive surveillance. The program requires migrants to constantly self-report their location through an app; all other functions on the device are disabled.
Despite the discourse of Biden’s “open borders,” the reality is that seeking asylum remains the most difficult it has ever been. Title 42 has blocked over a million potential asylum seekers since the start of the pandemic. Though Biden has mostly blocked new border construction under Trump’s plan, he has quietly funneled billions into a digital border wall, from watchtowers and drones to a vast digital surveillance system. While I had seen the reports, it was startling to see this represented in the heart of Washington DC.
How to Take Action
That Abbott’s political stunt has not had the intended disrupting effect is in large part due to the organizing and mutual aid efforts by Sanctuary DMV. But it seems that Texas, and now Arizona, plan to ramp up the number of migrants sent to D.C., just as volunteers and organizers are at capacity.
Now is the time to step up and demonstrate that our communities are capable of welcoming our new neighbors with dignity and respect. Here are just a few ways to help:
Volunteer: If you are in the DMV, there are many ways to volunteer, from sorting donations to greeting new arrivals. Spanish, Portuguese, and French speakers are greatly needed.
Gift supplies: Or ship supplies from anywhere through the wishlist. Undergarments, Men’s clothing, and toiletries are especially needed.
[Warning: This post contains descriptions of extreme violence]
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement on March 17, that read, “Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti…It is crucial for urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs.”
The statement offered the following account of recent violence:
Between 24 April and 16 May, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged to be gang members were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince. Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped against ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers. The actual number of people killed may be much higher.
Extreme violence has been reported, including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and the killing of minors accused of being informants for a rival gang. Sexual violence, including gang rape of children as young as 10, has also been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rival gangs. Sources also reported the presence of minors in the gangs.
How to make sense of this? International media accounts of Haiti often focus on the growing power and influence of gangs. The news is presented in shocking, sensational tidbits. Too often, the impression the stories leave is that Haiti is descending into chaos. To the contrary, it is important to remember that the gangs and the violence they employ is an expression of the distribution of power in Haiti, and the conflicts are about the future distribution of power. The violence is truly horrible, but the violence is also purposeful.
There are many resources about gang violence in Haiti. Below I share two recent items that will help contextualize the latest crisis in Coix-des-Bouquets, and point to another collection of essays that situate insecurity in a larger historical context.
City of Gangs video and podcast series
Dr. Tram Jones of Haiti Health Network released three videos explaining the different gang formations in Port au Prince, their strategic position along trade routes in and out of the city, and the current alliances and points of conflict at root of the extensive violence that has occurred over the last year. The series covers Central Port-au-Prince, Martissant, and Croix-des-Bouquets. It is definitely worth the time. (Below is the first video in the series)
Dr. Jones also has a podcast called Overseas in which he discusses much of this history and overview of recent events in more detail. As he suggests, it helps to watch the videos first to get the geography fixed in your mind. You can find the podcasts here.
RNDDH’s most recent report
The context for this horror is war between the Chen Mechan and the 400 Mawozo gangs in the Plaine du Cul-de-sac communities of Tabarre and Croix-des-Bouquets. The National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) issued a report last week that detailed the history of the gangs and this most recent fight over territory and trade. The violence is shocking, intentionally so. Detailing events of April 24 to May 6 in Plaine du Cul-de-sac, RNDDH concludes:
From April 24 to May 6, 2022, two (2) armed gangs, benefiting from the support of state authorities and people around the ruling power, clash. Never have armed attacks been so virulent: people have been murdered by bullets, others beheaded, some others, thrown in latrines and water wells. Women and girls have been raped. Corpses were meticulously chopped and taken in photos that circulated on social networks, with the aim of maintaining an unspeakable terror among the population in general and the community of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac in particular.
RNDDH documents a decade of interaction between gang leaders and government officials. The internecine conflicts in these circles are complex. It is not that the government “controls the gangs” in some uniform way, but it is clearly the case that people allied with the state lean on gangs to get things done. So, when there is political conflict, it plays out on the street in the most brutal of ways:
[RNDDH] will never stop repeating that for several years, successive state authorities have chosen the gangsterization of the state as a new form of governance. They supply arms and ammunition to armed gangs, and they practice and promote smuggling to facilitate the entry of illegal weapons into the national territory, 76% of which pass through the port of Port- au-Prince. And, in order not to have to justify, since 2012, under the presidency of Joseph Michel MARTELLY, the various anti-smuggling brigades that operated in the ports, airports, and border crossings of the country have all been dismantled.
RNDDH has been documenting gang violence in the country for many years now, and has a large repository of reports, many available in English.
New Series from Society for Cultural Anthropology
Finally, there is an amazing, collection of articles curated by Greg Beckett and Laura Wagner for the Society for Cultural Anthropology (free to access) that came out at the beginning of May, titled, Haiti Beyond Crisis, which seeks to contextualize a broad range of current and historical issues. The editors write:
“This series suggests new ways to understand the current situation in Haiti and poses questions about what is, and isn’t, happening in Haiti right now….The contributors to this series—scholars, activists, journalists, and others from inside and outside Haiti—draw on years of experience to write about themes including violence and ensekirite, migration and deportation, exploitation and industrialization, state corruption, international intervention, everyday life, and Haiti as a symbol of collective freedom.”
It is an important work, relevant and crucial for understanding what insecurity means for people’s daily lives. For example, Ritzamarum Zétrenne writes of the journey up into the mountains to avoid “the road to death” through Martissant, (which will be much clearer if you watch Tram Jones’ video above on the gangs in Martissant before reading). Chelsey Kivland writes in the “Semantics of the Gang today in Haiti” of how the language of the gang is adopted by people who have been forcibly repatriated from the United States as a survival strategy. Jennifer Greenburg centers the kreyol term ensekirite, “a term anthropologist Erica James describes as ‘the embodied uncertainty generated by political, criminal, economic, and also spiritual ruptures that many individuals and groups continue to experience in Haiti’” in “Instability or Ensekirite? The Securitization of Haiti as an Object of International Intervention.”
These are just a few of the articles in this collection. You can view the entire collection here.
Halt the expulsions!
In the context of the ongoing violence discussed above, we continue to denounce the Biden administration’s decision to expel Haitian refugees back to Haiti. He has expelled nearly 23,000 Haitians since September of 2021. It is an indefensible policy. Please join us in keeping the pressure on him to stop!