Haiti COVID-19 Update

Interactive Map tracking Coronavirus in Haiti

Mapping COVID-19 in Haiti

As of today, Haiti’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 are currently 43 with another 485 suspected cases awaiting test results. Three people have died. While actual infections may be much higher, as widespread testing is not yet available, certainly things could be worse. The Dominican Republic has over 4,000 confirmed cases and 200 deaths. Haiti’s health infrastructure has been decimated by decades of structural adjustment policies and demands for reduced budgets. So it is not in a position to manage thousands of cases – another reason to suspend deportation flights!

Deportation flights – more to come?

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 61 people to Haiti. The move caused a huge stir, leading to outrage among members of Congress and multiple stories in the media. Of course, the U.S. has been deporting people throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the vast majority to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Indeed, 12,000 people have been deported to Guatemala since January. Just this week, ICE deported 182 people in one day on two different flights. On one of those flights, 44 people tested positive. On April 12, Guatemala had 167 cases of COVID-19 confirmed nationwide. WIth one deportation flight, the U.S. government increased infections in Guatemala by 25%. Though there is controversy over where the flight originated, flight tracking indicates clearly it was from Alexandria, LA and ICE’s staging facility there. That facility has the highest ICE staff infection number in the country (currently at 13). It is the same staging facility where the flight to Haiti departed from the previous week.

In the last week, 27 members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and other House leadership demanding that any future coronavirus legislation include a ban on deportation flights to Haiti. We agree, and have signed onto a letter being circulated by the Haiti Bridge Alliance calling for a suspension of deportation flights, as well as mass release from ICE detention facilities. If you represent an organization, please consider signing onto this letter until April 21.

That said, ultimately we need to stop all deportation flights, and stop them now. Another flight is likely scheduled this week to the Domincian Republic – some reports indicate it will stop in Haiti first. Further flights are planned to Ecuador and Colombia  Flights to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador continue unabated for now. This cannot continue. 

U.S. blocking exports of medical supplies

Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean will NOT be able to get protective equipment and medical supplies from the United States.  From the Miami Herald:

Caribbean nations struggling to save lives and prevent the deadly spread of the coronavirus in their vulnerable territories should not look to the United States as they seek to acquire scarce but much-needed protective gear to fight the global pandemic

A spokesperson from U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to the Miami Herald that the agency is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prevent distributors from diverting personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as face masks and gloves, overseas. Ventilators also are on the prohibited list.

The move stems from authorizations under the Defense Production Act which allows the federal government to take more control over procurement of emergency supplies. It also allows the president to ban the export of certain items. Customs and Border Patrol is enforcing this in regards to ventilators, marks and other protective items. 

In Haiti, domestic production of masks and other protective gear was launched two weeks ago to both produce needed materials and keep some factories at work.

Now Haiti’s government seems set to begin reopening garment factories. The prime minister announced this week that starting April 20, some factories would be reopened. In the short term, about 30% of the sector’s capacity would be reactivated – to allow for more space within facilities. Garment production makes up 90% of the value of Haiti’s exports.

Update from Gros Morne

In the section of Haiti where we work, in and around the community of Gros Morne, there are no confirmed cases, but people remain cautious. The agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center have been delivering seeds to farmers throughout the region. The rains have not yet come, but when they do, we want farmers to have what they need to plant, so there will be more food in the area in 3 months. Hunger has been a constant specter for rural communities over the last several years. A large bag of rice is now selling for 2,000 Haitian gourde at the local market – over $20. 

As the team travels in the region they are also disseminating information about COVID-19 and preventive, sanitary measures for reducing the spread of the disease. Check out the map below to see where we are working.

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#FreeThemAll…keep the pressure on!

Image from Shutterstock.com.

“As the virus spreads like wildfire inside the jail in these uncertain times, one constant remains: our society has ceased seeing the people we lock away in our jails and prisons as human beings.” Alec Karakatsanis, of Civil Rights Corps, representing people held in pre-trial detention in Harris County, TX

If one had any doubts about the fundamentally unjust nature of our systems of incarceration, the COVID-19 experience should erase them. For in its responses to this crisis the carceral state(s) has made clear that incarceration has nothing to do with security, or concern for public welfare more generally. From country jails, to federal and state prisons, to the vast network of immigration detention facilities scattered across the country, people are sick, some are dying, trapped in overcrowded facilities, without access to basic sanitation or adequate health services. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 for those incarcerated is rising exponentially – at dramatically higher rates than in the general population.

In the Federal prison system, cases are far from a plateau. As reported in the Washington Post, “On March 20, the bureau’s website reported just two covid-19-positive inmates and staff; two weeks later, it reported 174 confirmed cases. That’s an increase of 8,600 percent, a much steeper rate of increase than has been recorded among the general population. And because testing has been grossly insufficient, these numbers are almost certainly an undercount.” The chart above gives a sense of the growth since. As of 04/16/2020, there are 473 people in federal bureau of prison custody and 279 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Eighteen people in custody have died; seven have occurred in just one prison – Oakdale Federal prison in Louisiana.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is considering releasing up to 1,000 people to home confinement. That leaves 143,000 people still behind bars.

In county and local jails around the country, efforts to release people in pre-trial detention and others at higher risk have been the most noteworthy, and yet clearly insufficient. In terms of sheer numbers, Los Angeles and New York released 2,500 people combined, and other localities have been looking at ways to get people out. Nevertheless, Rikers Island remains in serious crisis. With 334 confirmed cases among the 4,000 people still being held, as of April 15, the infection rate on Rikers Island is 5 times that of New York City – 13 times the rate of infection in Lombardy, Italy. And everyone knows undercounting is severe within prisons.

In Chicago, Cook County Jail, one of the country’s largest jails, has over 500 people with confirmed cases, and at least three deaths. Nearly 20% of the people being held in the jail have been released since mid-March. Further releases are being discussed, but slowed by negotiations over securing bail. There are 4,400 people still in the jail in pre-trial detention. In other words, they have not been convicted of crime; they are, legally speaking, still innocent. People being held in the jail sued the sheriff’s office over poor conditions. Much of the suit was tossed by a judge, though the judge did order that the county make available adequate amounts of soap and hand sanitizer.

Yes, in the middle of a global pandemic, in the richest country in the world, people behind bars, who have not been convicted of a crime, have to sue the government to get soap. 

In Harris County, TX a federal judge yesterday denied an injunction that would have allowed for the release of nearly 1,000 people held in pretrial detention. At issue was a multitude of competing orders – including one from the governor denying anyone’s release if they had a prior conviction for, or were accused of violence. Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who ruled on the case, refused to untangle the “jurisdictional mess created by competing stakeholders” in what she called “a dizzying array of government actors with different interests, policies, and legal positions.”

Within state prison systems the situation is worse. In Pennsylvania, Rudolph Sutton, was the first person to die with COVID-19 inside the prison system. He had been working with the state innocence project trying to secure his release.  He likely should have never been in prison to begin with. He was 67 and should have been released regardless (having already served a 30 years sentence). Now he is dead. He won’t be the last. 

In Oregon, twelve people in prison have tested positive for COVID-19, leading the state to consider releasing close to 3,000 people of the 14,000 in custody. It would certainly be one of the bolder moves – at least in terms of numbers. However, predictably, despite the looming health crisis, state prosecutors are pushing back. In a statement, officials with the Oregon District Attorneys Association said, “We strongly oppose mass release of prison inmates and call upon the Governor and the Department of Corrections to meet their duty to keep our communities safe.” Nevermind that the point of the mass release is community safety, appearances must be maintained.   

Some states are bucking the trend. Rather than release people, they are sending them to a separate location for quarantine. For example, Connecticut is sending prisoners testing positive to the Northern Correctional Institute. Someone previously incarcerated there writes, “First of all, let me say that the conditions in Northern Correctional Institution, where Connecticut’s COVID-19-positive inmates are being sent, are horrific and absolutely in no way conducive to the healing of sickly inmates. In actuality it is a place that is ‘a recipe for disaster’ as medical workers from the CTDOC have stated.” There is poor ventilation, and severe understaffing.

Like Connecticut, Louisiana is preparing to quarantine folks at a separate facility, “Camp J” at Angola Prison. Camp J has not been operational for a while- shut down because it was run down and unsafe. Perfect. It is also fairly isolated and far from hospitals. Attorneys trying to keep this from happening note

“By crowding large numbers of COVID-19 patients into a facility far removed from hospitals and adequate medical staff and where social distancing is impossible, the DOC is implementing a deadly course of action that controverts not only public health recommendations but also basic common sense,” the complaint reads. “If the DOC is permitted to carry out this LSP transfer plan, it will likely result in the death of dozens — if not hundreds or thousands — of people.” 

ICE Air flight paths including deportation flights

Among Louisiana’s immigrant detention facilities, there are confirmed cases at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center, LaSalle Correctional Center, Winn Correctional Center, LaSalle ICE Processing Center, Richwood Correctional Center, and the Alexandria Staging Facility. These represent just a handful of ICE facilities nationally. There are confirmed cases,  now present throughout ICE’s network of detention facilities. And as with the rest of the country – worse in prisons and jails – testing is way behind.

Importantly, the cases at the Alexandria Staging Facility make this a global problem. The Alexandria facility serves as one of five hubs used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stage deportation flights to Central America and the Caribbean. It is one of the busiest facilities, surpassed only by San Antonio. It is also the place with the highest number of confirmed cases among ICE detention staff  in the country. People deported through Alexandria have been confirmed positive in Guatemala just this week. 

ICE has made a very limited effort to release people – just under 800 over the last two weeks.  There are still 33,000 people being held in detention – and many of them are also in the same county jails that are suffering outbreaks. 

It is important to understand that what we are witnessing in horror, people trapped behind bars throughout the country increasingly testing positive for COVID-19 and dying, is not the symptom of a broken system. It is evidence of a system operating as it was designed to operate. It is simply doing so in an environment that makes the utter inhumanity of its design plainly visible for all to see. At least those willing to look at it.  We must take action now to help save lives. Longer term, this incarceration hellscape must be torn down and replaced by a system that heals communities and restores balance.

If anything good can come from this disease, let it be a recognition of the need to change institutions and create a more caring world.

Action ideas

To keep up the pressure, please sign the Detention Watch Network #FreeThemAll petition on MoveOn.org, and remember to share it with at least ten friends. 

Petition to gain release of people from Pennsylvania Jails and Prisons.

Petition to release people from detention in New York and New Jersey.

Color of Change ‘s Humanity not Cages campaign including petitions for local and state action to decarcerate, in Los Angeles, Arizona, North Carolina, Nebraska, Michigan and more

In California, Call Local ICE Field Directors (FD) and demand they #FlattenTheCurve and #FreeThemAll

FD Jennings NorCal (Yuba and Mesa Verde) – (415) 844-5651

FD Marin Socal (Adelanto) – (213) 830- 7911 

FD Archambeault San Diego (Otay) – (619) 557-6117

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ICE must stop ALL deportation flights!

ICE Air Operations (source: Center for Human Rights, University of Washington)

Last week ICE deported 61 people to Haiti. Though deportation flights have been occurring at a regular pace to countries throughout Central America in recent weeks, the flight to Haiti raised criticism to a new level. Certainly, given the fragility of Haiti’s health infrastructure, the administration could find a way to halt deportations for a time – right?

Indeed, this week 27 members of Congress asked the House leadership to include a ban on deportations to Haiti in any future coronavirus legislation. Suspending deportation flights to Haiti is important. But I would hope that Congress could find the courage to suspend all deportation flights for the duration of this pandemic. Given the way this process is organized there is no way flights can be conducted safely.

The first thing to understand is that deportation flights, like most of the U.S. immigration enforcement machinery, are a business. Immigration and Customs Enforcement runs an airline of sorts called ICE Air Operations. ICE Air subcontracts with private charter companies, who get paid well per flight hour, no matter how many people are on the flights. Most of ICE Air operations run through a single contractor, Classic Air Charters (CAC). CAC manages flight calendars, and subcontracts with additional companies – Swift Air and World Atlantic Airlines – for deportation flights. CAC received a one-year contract, with four one-year extensions written in, worth $646 million in 2018. 

If you scroll through the news release section on ICE’s webpage you will find celebrations of ICE Air picking up U.S. citizens and permanent residents in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala. Of course, what first happened is that a charter plane was filled with people being deported. They were taken to those countries, and then the private charter service is paid to bring people to the United States. With other international travel from these locations being blocked, these charters are one of the few ways people can return to the U.S. The private charter companies get paid going and coming.

Like any other airline, ICE Air runs hubs for international and domestic flights. For international (read deportation flights) the hubs are in Miami, FL, San Antonio, TX, Brownsville, TX, Mesa, AZ and Alexandria, LA. These hubs are themselves detention sites, or “staging areas.” People are transferred from facilities throughout the United States to one of these staging facilities, where they will be detained for up to 72 before being put on board a plane to be deported.  

The flight to Haiti last week left from the Alexandria, LA staging area. The Alexandria staging area is also a business – it is run by the for-profit prison company GEO Group. The facility can detain up to 400 people a day. The facility also has the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases among detention staff in the country.  Of 19 confirmed cases among ICE detention staff recorded on April 10, 11 were at the Alexandria Staging Facility. But the actual number of cases may be even higher as ICE is not reporting staff working for contractors – e.g. GEO Group staff or subcontractors working for them. Louisiana prison and jails are among the hardest hit in the country outside of the New York area. Actual incidents of COVID-19 are thus much higher than ICE is reporting – including at the Alexandria facility.

What that means is that everyone on the flight to Haiti was likely exposed to coronavirus, as well as the hundreds of people who were processed through that facility on their way to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

That a staging area like this has seen this level of cases is not surprising. People are being transferred from all over the country. Coronavirus is now confirmed in facilities throughout ICE’s detention network. For example, one man scheduled to be on the flight to Haiti last week was transferred through two other facilities before arriving in Alexandria. Both of those facilities also had confirmed cases of coronavirus. City to city transfers like these within the United States also take place on ICE Air flights. The potential for spreading the virus through multiple transfers, many on airplanes, to then be held in a staging area for three days and then placed on an international flight, is obviously very high.

Remember, there is no screening for COVID-19 except for temperature checks before people board.

There are documented cases of people arriving from the United States aboard these flights who are confirmed to have COVID-19 within days of arrival. 

There is no way this process can unfold safely. Yet, the Trump administration, rather than slow the flights, has gone so far as to threaten to sanction any country whose government refuses to accept deportation flights – despite the clear risks involved. 

Yesterday, April 13, two deportation flights landed in Guatemala totaling 182 people. The first flight originated from the Alexandria Staging Facility. At least one person tested positive for COVID 19. Earlier, Guatemala’s health minister said that 75% of returnees on a flight in March have tested positive.

Members of Congress should seek to stop deportation flights to Haiti. But they must go further. The government must suspend all deportation flights for the duration of this pandemic. To continue these flights puts the health of people in detention, staff and the communities people are being returned to at further risk.

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Situation of shelters in the Franciscan Network on Migration during COVID-19

The Franciscan Network for Migrants (RFM) emerged in April 2018 during the annual Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation Course, held in Guadalajara, Mexico. During 2019, the Network took form, organized with four original houses for migrants belonging to the Order: La 72 (Mexico), The Migrant Center of New York (USA), Comedor para Migrantes San Francisco (Mexico) and Pilgrims’ house of the Migrant “Santo Hermano Pedro” (Guatemala). 

The Quixote Center is a partner of the Network and currently operates as its fiscal sponsor in the United States. We work to amplify the voices of the people who staff shelters as well as the voices of the people they serve. 

The update below is from interviews with staff at shelters in Mexico and one in Guatemala, which form the core of the network. Each section below provides a brief status update and a description of current needs. If you would like to support the Network you can make a donation here.

People gathered at Frontera Digna

Frontera Digna, Piedras Negras, Mexico

The Frontera Digna shelter is current hosting 34 adults and 14 children. The shelter is providing 3 meals a day and will let these people stay as long as they need. However, the shelter is not able to accept new people. In recent days there have not been many people arriving from the south. Shelter staff think that the immigration agents are waiting for people near the train so they can be detained and repatriated. [Note: We reported earlier this week about a fire breaking out in a site operated by the same Franciscan sisters as a shelter, which immigration officials had essentially commandeered to hold people recently deported from the United States]. A few people do arrive seeking food, but are generally not allowed to approach the house. When possible, staff distribute food to those who need it.

The mayor has said there will be a curfew if people ignore orders to stay at home. As of April 7, there are 7 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the city of Piedras Negras.

The shelter’s main need at the moment is support to continue feeding the people who are staying at the shelter and cannot leave.

Mezquital, Guatemala City

Given restrictions put in place by the Guatemalan government, there are currently no people staying at the Mezquital shelter. The last people who stayed included a family from Honduras and 3 men from San Pedro Sula and Olancho, also in Honduras. This was on March 14. The restrictions are for the protection of the staff and volunteers. They will evaluate these rules once the restrictions are lifted.

On Monday, April 6, shelter staff were informed that there was a family from Brazil that needed accommodation immediately because they were scheduled to be deported to Brazil on Thursday, April 9. The shelter paid for them to stay at a hotel in the city. Shelter staff think they will continue to do this with others who need a place to stay.

The shelter’s current need is help in building a fund to support people with hotel accommodations as needed.

People in line at La 72 in Tenosique

La 72, Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico

La 72 Migrant and Refugee Shelter is under self-quarantine. There are some people who have entered after the quarantine began, but staff are requiring them to stay in isolation for 14 days, in the area that has typically housed unaccompanied minors. These adolescents are now being accommodated in the Ayotzinapa Room (meeting room). Only 6 people and 2 volunteers have arrived during the quarantine, and all are in isolation at the moment.

Before closing the doors, shelter staff alerted people to the new protocols. Many decided to leave and look for housing in town. Approximately 130-140 remained inside. Those who stayed only go out for their asylum appointments at COMAR. Shelter staff drive them to the appointments in groups, using the shelter’s pick-up truck.

Given travel restrictions, volunteers are in short supply. Staff are staying at the shelter in 24-hour shifts.

Shelter staff are requesting donations to cover emergency support for food and other humanitarian aid.

Comedor San Francisco, Mazatlán, Mexico

The soup kitchen at the San Francisco shelter continues to provide food to people. However, as they cannot have them gather in the dining rooms, they are distributing bags with basic food items: cakes, sandwiches, tuna or sardines, canned goods, cookies, bottled water, cooked eggs, etc. People are not allowed to stay on site.

Only in very special cases (families) are people allowed to enter the parish grounds with due precautions. Most migrants are trying to shelter in place, but in locations scattered throughout the neighborhood. There are volunteers who, when they see them near their homes, give them hot food. Many of the migrants know the territory very well and are able to locate volunteers who can help with food.

Right now there are no volunteers on site, only the friars. Many of the volunteers who regularly help are older people and therefore they are no longer allowed to come to the dining room given the risks of contracting COVID-19. There are benefactors who continue to support from their homes organizing food collections for migrants, some of which they bring to the shelter to distribute.

The shelter needs to purchase more food because the end to the situation is not in sight. They also need funds to buy underwear and other clothing (shorts, socks, T-shirts, etc.).

If you would like to support the Franciscan Network on Migration, please click here to find a donation page.

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ICE detentions are way down this month. That is not all good news.

Busses taking people to deportation flights in Brownsville, TX

According to ICE detention statistics, on March 21 ICE was holding just over 38,000 people. On March 28 the number was down to 35,671; by April 4 the number was 33,863. Which means over the last two weeks the number of people in ICE detentions has fallen by 4,200, or just over 11%. As we, and many other people have been advocating releases, this seems like good news.

However, is ICE actually releasing people on a large scale? It does not seem to be the case. The Global Detention Project estimated that only 200 people had been released in recent weeks by ICE under pressure from advocates for humanitarian parole. Rather, it seems that the decline is the result of a drop in book-ins to ICE facilities, coupled with ICE continuing to deport people at a significant pace. 

The first point to make is that fewer people are being booked into ICE facilities. Those transferred from Customs and Border Patrol to ICE hit its lowest level this year during March. This decline is the result of fewer people trying to get into the United States, and, more to the point, the fact the U.S. is simply sending those people who make it back across the border to Mexico without processing them. This policy was established under an emergency order issued by Trump – and if it lasts long enough to go to court, will almost certainly be overturned. But for now, CBP is holding fewer people, and thus transferring fewer people for longer term detention in ICE facilities. Book-ins from CBP were 9,218 for March, nearly 2,000 less than in February, and the lowest monthly total this fiscal year.

The number of people booked into ICE facilities as the result of internal enforcement operations (CBP detentions are generally the result of enforcement actions at, or near the border) also declined in March, though was still over 10,000. In mid-March, Mark Albence announced that ICE would be reducing its enforcement operations to focus exclusively on removals of people with criminal convictions. Reportedly, Albence was raked over the coals within the White House for this announcement, as it  had not been approved in advance. So we’ll see how long it lasts. The decline in book-ins in March was not great however, and through the first 3 days of April, 886 people were detained as the result of internal removal operations. This represents too few days to make much of a guess at April numbers, but if this early daily average were to hold, the total book ins would be near 9,000 people – lower than recent months to be sure, but still a lot of people. For March the total was 10,100 – lower than February or January, but higher than November or December. An important trend here is that internal removal operations are now higher than CBP transfers as the source for ICE detention for the first time in well over a year, if not longer.

So, one reason the overall numbers are down is a significant decline in those transferred into ICE’s massive detention network. However, this doesn’t explain how people are getting out. If the Global Detention Project’s estimates are correct, and relatively few people are getting released as a result of humanitarian parole (+/- 200), then there must be another source for the 11% fall in detentions over the last two weeks. 

The main source of the decline in detention numbers seems to be deportations. Of the 33,800 people in ICE detention right now, 12,000 are slated for expedited removal. So, many of these people may be gone by the end of April – offsetting any increase from ongoing enforcement actions.

Of great concern is the related fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued regular deportation flights with only a brief pause to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and in the last week has also flown people into Haiti, Colombia and Nicaragua. And, of course, ICE has been deporting the largest group of people back across the border into Mexico, as it regularly does. 

Deportation flights have become the source of growing criticism of ICE and the Trump administration’s immigration policies in the time of coronavirus. COVID-19 is now present throughout ICEs facilities, and will only grow in the coming weeks. ICE’s lack of preparation and discernible care for the people in its custody during this pandemic has been documented over and over-  most recently, by Amnesty International in a scathing report released earlier this week. And yet ICE continues to move people around within its detention network, and is still deporting people to countries, almost all of whom have otherwise closed their borders and shuttered international airports. All of these countries are now forced to spend precious resources managing arrivals from the United States – which is now the location of nearly one-third of the globe’s confirmed cases. 

So, ICE practices have become a significant source in the transnational spreading of coronavirus in the Americas. There have been 3 confirmed cases of people deported to Guatemala with COVID-19, and many other people arriving with flu-like symptoms to other countries. The attorney for a Hatian man due to be deported this week noted that his client had been in two different facilities in one week – both of which had confirmed cases of COVID-19 among either staff or people being detained. He was pulled off the deportation flight at the last minute, but none of the other 61 people on the flight to Haiti were tested for COVID-19. 

I would love to celebrate the decline in the number of people being held detention by ICE. And, all things considered, it is certainly better news than an increase in those numbers. But underlying the decline are disturbing practices; practices that in the context of a global pandemic rise to a level of indifference and irresponsibility that is shocking even for this administration’s already low bar on ethical behavior.

ICE must halt deportations AND release people from detention…NOW. 

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Take action: In the middle of global pandemic, ICE deports 61 people to Haiti 

Haiti last month closed its borders after detecting its first two cases of the novel coronavirus [File: Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters]

“The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately reply to a request for comment,” has become a common line in story after story about the actions of U.S. immigration agencies in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This specific quote is from a Reuters report yesterday concerning the decision of the administration to deport 61 people to Haiti, despite there being near universal efforts across the globe to restrict travel. Haiti has closed its international airport, for example. To no avail. Though President Moise reportedly agreed to accept the flight, the foreign minister, Claude Joseph, opposed the flight and lobbied the U.S. government to stop it.

Haiti is particularly vulnerable to an outbreak of COVID-19. Though there are currently only 25 confirmed cases in the country, the reality is that very few people have been tested. Next door in the Dominican Republic confirmed cases are closer to 2,000. As the lack of testing indicates, Haiti’s health infrastructure has been decimated by years of attrition. At the moment, Haiti has very few ICU beds available, has, by some reports, only 64 ventilators in the entire country, and its efforts to quarantine people has not gone well thus far. Social distancing is an enormous challenge. With the bulk of people working in the informal economy, and with food prices escalating daily, some members of nearly every household, by necessity, leave their homes to secure a daily wage to then try and purchase food. Should Haiti face anything like what is happening even just next door in the Dominican Republic, the health system and network of nonprofit agencies that coordinate (more or less) with the Ministry of Health, will struggle to adapt. 

These are all reasons enough to cancel the flight, and were all delivered to the administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement by members of Congress, attorneys, human rights advocates, and as noted, the foreign minister of Haiti. The Trump administration’s response was to send the plane anyway with “no comment”  by way of explanation.

If one digs a little deeper into this flight, however, one can see a pattern of indifference to the conditions the people trapped in our immigration detention and enforcement machine are facing. As the administration is refusing to halt ICE’s deportation flights across the region, ICE is knowingly contributing to the spread of COVID-19. This is not speculation. It has already begun. 

With only a brief pause in mid-March, as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras tried to stop these flights from arriving, the United States has continued to deport people throughout Central America, Mexico and Colombia in the midst of this global pandemic. ICE’s only comment has been that “flights will continue.” As a result, ICE has deported at least three people with COVID-19 in the last week, and many others have been hospitalized upon arrival in their home countries with “flu-like symptoms.”

This week we joined with 60 other organizations in a letter demanding that these flights stop. The letter was organized by the Latin America Working Group and concludes with the following recommendations:

We urge the Trump Administration to immediately take the following actions:

    • Halt deportations of women, men, children and families back to their home countries;
    • Release immigrants from detention maximizing use of humanitarian parole, release on recognizance, and where necessary, ​community-based alternatives to detention, following medical screening and in a manner consistent with public health protocols on COVID-19;
    • Process unaccompanied children according to the safeguards that the TVPRA provides and that child welfare standards compel;
    • Apply the same health screening processes currently used by CBP for other individuals crossing the land border to asylum seekers — including referral to health officials for additional testing of any individuals with symptoms of illness and those who have recently traveled to high-prevalence areas — and provide them health information (in their own language) on prevention, isolation and treatment measures;
    • Parole arriving asylum seekers at ports of entry as expeditiously as possible, release other asylum seekers using other community-based alternatives to detention;
    • Coordinate with local groups to ensure housing and transportation upon release, and avoid holding asylum seekers in enclosed or densely populated spaces; Ensure the passage of humanitarian assistance and staff from the United States to reach asylum seekers on the Mexican side of the border;
    • Urge Western Hemisphere governments not to take advantage of the pandemic to unduly restrict human rights, freedom of the press, and civil liberties, including access to information about COVID-19; and
    • Release humanitarian funding that was previously withheld for Central America and provide substantial additional resources to support the work of international and local humanitarian organizations to assist with public health needs, food insecurity, access to sustainable livelihoods and water, and efforts to combat the virus.

Things you can do!

You can help get the word out by sharing the letter (linked here) on Facebook, Twitter, or by email.

You can also sign this petition coordinated by LAWG demanding an end to deportation flights

And also, sign (and share!) this petition, calling for ICE to #FreeThemAll, and release people from detention facilities.

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Mexico’s detention network is human rights disaster – and U.S. policy is making it worse

At all times, and certainly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of Mexico and the U.S. must protect the rights of migrants. In the current context of a global pandemic, both governments must halt enforcement actions and deportations, and release people from detention facilities where their lives are endangered by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.

On Friday April 3, a fire broke out during a protest in a makeshift facility, located in Piedras Negras, Mexico, which is being used to detain people deported from the United States. There are 163 people in the facility who are mostly non-Mexican nationals who cannot be returned to their home countries as borders in the region are closed in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The police, National Guard and immigration police were mobilized en masse to respond to the demonstration. Six people were detained by police and another six people were taken to a local hospital with injuries.

Isabel Turcios, a Franciscan sister whose community operates the Frontera Digna shelter in Piedras Negras explained that in recent weeks, as people have been deported into the city the numbers have quickly overwhelmed the capacity of local shelters to provide assistance. Currently, the Frontera Digna shelter can only serve 64 people. As the shelter could not accommodate more people, immigration authorities requested the use of a new shelter that was being prepared exclusively for women and children and the sisters complied with their request. The facility has a capacity to hold 80 people, but as noted, over 160 people were locked in. 

Sister Isabel says that the conditions faced by people in the facility led to the demonstration. “The conditions seem to have been very desperate, especially among the men, because of the overcrowding they had, and they could barely move and they were screaming to please repatriate them, to their places, to their countries. Since they were not paying attention to them, well, they made them take heed, burning some of the mattresses. That was what they did around 10:00 in the morning, in the place where they were. They started to set the mattresses on fire. And of course the house, some of the areas, filled with smoke. They had children who were also affected, children and women affected by the smoke.”  

In Piedras Negras, the recent wave of deportations from the United States are occurring alongside the fall out of another Trump policy, “Remain in Mexico,” that requires people to wait in Mexico for asylum hearings. Those hearings, already a farce, have been put on hold during the pandemic. And so, people seeking asylum are left in border towns like Piedras Negras in unsafe conditions, while more and more people are being turned back at the border into the same conditions. Much as in the United States, the response by the government in Mexico has been to simply round people up. The resulting conditions have proven deadly.

On Tuesday, March 31, Héctor Rolando Barrientos Dardón died during a fire at the Tenosique Migration Station, an immigrant detention facility near Mexico’s border with Guatemala in the state of Tabasco. His death occurred during a protest by several men who were denouncing their ongoing detention in the overcrowded facility, a situation which puts their lives at risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In responding to the protest in Tenosique, police blocked people from leaving the facility, even after a sleeping mat caught fire, resulting in Barrientos’ death and 14 other people being sent to the hospital due to smoke inhalation and other injuries. 

Following events in Tenosique – itself the result of a pattern of abuse, organizations throughout Mexico denounced the government’s response and called for the resignation of the head of the National Institute on Migration. They also issued three demands:

  • The National Institute on Migration must carry out a thorough investigation into the death in Tenosique, clarify internal responsibility and take urgent measures to ensure that no more deaths occur in migration stations.
  • The government of Mexico, in the context of the pandemic, should stop the arrest of migrants, release people detained at migrant stations, and guarantee the safe return of those who wish to return.
  • Authorities at the local, state and federal level of government must work to guarantee the rights of migrants to health and protection permanently and with special attention for the duration of the pandemic.

U.S. Policy is Making the Situation Worse

The situation in Mexico is made much worse by the Trump administration’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Trump has refused to release people held in immigation detention within the United States, and has, instead, been engaging in mass deportations to Mexico, Central America and Colombia. Globally, one in four people confirmed COVID-19 positive live in the United States. COVID-19 has been confirmed in both adult imigration detention facilities, and facilities for unaccompanied children run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Given the dangers, deporting people with nothing more than a temperature check is certainly going to spread the disease even further. Indeed, a man deported from the Arizona area to Guatemala this week arrived with COVID-19, and many other people deported show symptoms and require quarantine when arriving outside the United States.

Exacerbating the situation is the Trump administration’s decision to summarily return anyone apprehended between ports of entry to Mexico, wherever they are from, and without any due process. The combination of deportation flights from the United States and summary deportations at the border, is contributing to the human rights catastrophe unfolding in Mexico’s overcrowded detention network. 

In order to protect the rights of migrants and the public health of our communities, we call for the following steps:

  • The government of Mexico must heed the call of civil society organizations and release people from detention immediately, halt enforcement actions, and guarantee the safety of those who are seeking to get to their home countries.
  • The United States government must stop its policy of summary expulsions at the border that not only violates U.S. law protecting the rights of anyone to seek asylum within the United States, but also violate international agreements and the guidance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who said, “All states must manage their borders in the context of this unique crisis as they see fit. But these measures should not result in closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger”
  • The United States must also stop deportation flights immediately. Instead, Immigration and Customs Enforcement should allow for the humanitarian release of people being held in administrative detention within the U.S.

The Franciscan Network on Migration (RFM), emerged in April 2018 during the annual JPIC Course, held in Guadalajara, Mexico, the main theme of which was “Migration: causes, walls and Franciscan perspectives.”

During 2019, a systematic dissemination and construction of the Network was organized with four houses for migrants belonging to the Order: La 72 (Mexico), The Migrant Center of New York (USA), Comedor para Migrantes San Francisco(Mexico) and Pilgrims’ house of the Migrant “Santo Hermano Pedro” (Guatemala). In addition, five working groups were created at the service of migrants: USA, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala.

Signed: Steering Committee of the Franciscan Network on Migration

For more information contact:

Lori Winther
Franciscan Network on Migration
Exective Committee

Tom Ricker
Quixote Center

Click here to read/download statement in Spanish

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La 72, Franciscan Network on Migration and others, denounce Mexican immigration authorities after death in custody

Firefighters on the scene. Image/La 72

Héctor Rolando Barrientos Dardón died on Tuesday during a fire at the Tenosique Migration Station, an immigrant detention facility near Mexico’s border with Guatemala in the state of Tabasco. His death occurred during a protest by several men who were denouncing their ongoing detention in the overcrowded facility, a situation which puts their lives at risk in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the protest a sleeping mat caught on fire. According to witness testimony collected by staff at La 72, a nearby shelter and human rights organization we work with, guards at the migration station refused to let people leave the facility, locking the gates and threatening to beat anyone attempting escape, including men, women and children. As a result of the fire, Barrientos, a forty-two year old man from Guatemala, was killed, and fourteen other people were seriously injured. A group of migrants did finally break down the door to the men’s area where the fire began and were able to get people out. Barrientos was seeking asylum in Mexico. According to this press report, he should have been released on Thursday, April 2 to pursue his case.

Our partners in the Franciscan Network on Migration, La 72 house for migrants , issued a press release denouncing the actions of guards and local police, as well as the ongoing failure of Mexico’s National Institute on Migration (INM) to secure the rights of migrants in Mexico. They also expressed concern that the National Human Rights Commission did not send anyone to investigate the fire, despite the Commission’s earlier call on March 19th for the INM to “implement precautionary measures to safeguard the physical, psychological, health and life conditions of migrants housed in immigration stations.”

In the same press release, La 72 raised additional concerns about the subsidiary impact of the U.S. policy of returning asylum seekers to Mexico, which is straining an already unsustainable situation: 

Last weekend we received in La 72 three Honduran people: a mother, with her 15-year-old daughter, and a male adult,  deported from the United States and Mexico. They first crossed into Texas, where they were captured by border patrol agents and immediately deported to Reynosa, remaining in custody of Mexican immigration. During their confinement at the Immigration Station, the mother and daughter were denied consular representation and the possibility of requesting refuge in Mexico. They were told they would have to do so in the south. On March 24, they signed their deportation order, indicating that they would be returned across the border from Talisman, Chiapas….The INM breached the deportation order and transferred them to the border port of El Ceibo, in Tabasco, where they were forced to cross through a blind spot, irregularly and clandestinely, towards Guatemala in order to continue on their journey to Honduras. The Guatemalan army intercepted them at the border and returned them to Mexico again. These abusive practices not only violate fundamental rights, such as the principle of non-refoulement, but also put the life and integrity of the deported persons at risk.

The release ends with three demands:

  1. The National Institute on Migration must carry out a thorough investigation into the death in Tenosique, clarify internal responsibility and take urgent measures to ensure that no more deaths occur in migration stations.
  2. The government of Mexico, in the context of the pandemic, should stop the arrest of migrants, release people detained at migrant stations, and guarantee the safe return of those who wish to return.
  3. Authorities at the local, state and federal level of government must work to guarantee the rights of migrants to health and protection permanently and with special attention for the duration of the pandemic.

Yesterday, La 72 joined hundreds of other organizations in Mexico in issuing a second statement further denouncing Mexican immigration authorities and calling for the firing of the head to National Institute on Immigration. The letter notes that the death in detention was the result of systemic abuses. They also state that, “keeping people in immigration detention, at serious risk of Covid-19 infection, is a violation of human rights and an attack on the lives of migrants and those who work in immigration stations.” For these reasons the organizations demand “the immediate dismissal of the INM commissioner.” You can read the full text of the organization letter here (in Spanish)

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#FreeThemAll Week of Action, Day Five

We are on the second to last day of Detention Watch Networks’s #FreeThemAll National Week of Digital Action, March 30 – April 4, to demand the liberation of all people in immigration detention – please keep up the pressure! 

Day 5 – Friday, April 3: Care not Cages: Public Health Department Accountability Day 

Detention centers are a hotbed of infection. The rapid spread of mumps that occurred last year foretells what could happen when people inside ICE custody are exposed to COVID-19. As we know that medical standards developed and implemented by ICE have proven inadequate time and again leading to preventable deaths of people in their custody. Thousands of doctors have already spoken out on the need to immediately release people from immigration detention —now we must call on public health officials to hear this demand and act urgently. 

We demand that public health departments act for our collective health to #FreeThemAll, with particular urgency for people on hunger strike, a rising trend in detention centers nationwide. People are bravely speaking out the only way they can — by refusing meals, knowingly weakening their immune systems. Lives are in jeopardy and people in detention are desperate to be released immediately as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Overview of today’s day of action and how you can support: 

  • Target: State and local public health departments, ICE Field Office Directors
  • Demands (Reference the “Local Strategies” and “State and Regional Strategies” sections in DWN’s #FreeThemAll Toolkit for detailed demands) :
    • Health departments: Conduct and release the results of an in-person inquiry and on-site inspection at detention centers near you to find out if cases of COVID-19 exist there, how they are being handled, and what prevention measures are being taken; inform the public and detained people what your plans are for addressing an outbreak at local detention centers; call for the release of people in immigration detention. 
    • ICE Field Office Directors: Release all people in immigration detention, starting with people on hunger strike and other medically vulnerable individuals 
  • Actions
    • View DWN’s recent social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and follow steps from each local campaign’s call to action targeting public health departments and ICE Field Office Directors 
    • Amplify today’s call to action from your own social media platforms and use #FreeThemAll
      1. Sample posts 
    • Participate in our  #FreeThemAll Take Action Social Media Challenge.
      1. *Action for Health Professionals*: Participate in American Friends Service Committee and Colorado People Alliance’s “Health Care Professionals Speak Out Against Immigrant Detention” Day of Action. 
    • Tune in to La Resistencia’s Facebook Live at 3pm EDT/12pm PDT where they will share updates concerning people on hunger strike and ICE retaliation at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, WA. 
    • Tune into DWN’s Live Facebook Video Premiere at 5pm EDT/2pm PDT with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Rights (ICIJ), Physicians for Human Rights, and Doctors for Camp Closure on the intersections between health justice and immigrant justice, the health threat immigration detention poses, and what communities, including the health professionals, can do in this moment. 

For the week of action schedule of events, visit Detention Watch Network’s Action Guide.

Resources to support your work:

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Take Action: #FreeThemAll and End Deportation Flights

#FreeThemAll week of Action Continues today

Drawing connections between immigrant detention and mass incarceration.

As part of this work, there is a webinar being offered this afternoon, put together by several organizations working on decarceration in the context of the threat of COVID-19 to those behind bars.

Register here (interpretation in Spanish will be available)

You can also help to amplify social media posts from Detention Watch Network and local partners.

  • View DWN’s most recent social media posts (FacebookTwitterInstagram) and follow steps from each local campaign’s call to action targeting local law enforcement
  • Amplify each local campaign’s call to action from your own social media platforms and use #FreeThemAll

Some related news….

Federal Prisons go on total lock down (from CNN)

The US federal prison system will move to a heightened state of lockdown as it fights the spread of coronavirus behind bars, the Bureau of Prisons announced.

Beginning Wednesday, inmates will be confined to their cells for a two-week period, with exceptions for certain programs and services like mental health treatment and education.
Limited group gatherings — like access to prison stores, laundry, showers and the telephone — will be “afforded to the extent practical,” the agency said.

The strict protocols come just days after the first coronavirus death in the federal prison system — at a Louisiana prison over the weekend. As of Monday, there were 28 inmates in federal custody with confirmed coronavirus diagnoses, in addition to 24 agency employees.

Rikers Island: More than 300 cases, 2 staff have died

[T]he rate of infection in the city jails has continued to climb, and by Monday, 167 inmates, 114 correction staff and 23 health workers had tested positive. Two correction staff members have died and a “low number” of inmates have been hospitalized, officials said.

More than 800 inmates are being held in isolation or in quarantined groups because someone in their jailhouse tested positive for the virus, the president of the correction officers union said. A medical building that includes the only contagious disease unit on Rikers Island is now full of sick detainees, officials said. The unit has 88 beds.

Fear of the virus has grown among inmates and correction officers, several said in interviews. Some incarcerated people have refused to do the work assigned to them or have started disturbances, demanding more cleaning supplies and masks. Others said that correction officers who are assigned to taking people to clinics have ignored their requests for medical attention. Some correction officers said they did not have the necessary equipment to protect themselves from the virus, and that they had received little guidance from leadership.

End deportation flights!

In addition to demanding release of people incarcerated in this country, we are also demanding that ICE end enforcement actions that put communities at risk. Of crucial importance is the need to end deportation flights to Central America. Here is a petition from LAWG making that demand, and some related news articles below it.

Latin American Working Group Petition on Deportations, To Trump and DHS Acting Head Chad Wolf

We ask you to immediately stop the deportations of women, men, and children to Mexico and Central America. This is a global health crisis that requires urgent public health responses. Deporting people back to their countries or to countries they do not even know without adequate medical screenings when travel is restricted worldwide is inhumane and dangerous. Central American nations are especially ill-prepared to handle the pandemic even without these continued deportations. Closing the U.S. border to asylum seekers and returning them to wait in refugee camps in Mexico puts them at grave risk. 

We urge you to stop deportations and these policies once and for all, and instead screen and process those seeking protections at our border humanely and fairly. U.S. policies must ensure the health and safety of all our communities during this public health crisis, and not send the most vulnerable away. Now is the time for unity and compassion, not division and fear.

Sign Here

Deportations to Central America threaten to spread COVID-19 (The Nation)

For detained immigrants, the threat of deportation—now during a pandemic—still looms. The administration has seemingly doubled down on removals, despite banning international travel from certain countries affected by the virus and trying to shut down the US-Mexico border. In an emergency budget request sent to Congress on March 17, the White House asked for $249 million in ICE funding, some of which would fund deportation flights. “With fewer commercial flight options,” the letter reads, “ICE charter aircraft are needed” so deportations can continue…

Detention and deportation not only increase the risk of transmission for immigrants in ICE custody—they also risk exporting the virus from the United States to countries unprepared to deal with mass outbreaks. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador take in thousands of deported nationals every month, and they may be forced to continue doing so even as the pandemic spreads.

Guatemalan Deported from the U.S. tests positive for Coronavirus (Al Jazeera)

A Guatemalan man who was deported from the United States last week has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Guatemalan Health Ministry said late on Sunday.

A spokeswoman for the Guatemalan Health Ministry told Al Jazeera the 29-year-old man from Momostenango, Totonicapan, was deported last Thursday on a flight chartered by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. The flight, with at least 40 others on board, originated in Mesa, Arizona, according to the Guatemalan Migration Institute.

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Contact Us

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

Direction to office:

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

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

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