Armed Raid on Migrant Shelter in Chiapas, Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week of Action Against Deportation

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

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

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

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

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Why is the GEO Group getting paid to fly deportation flights to Haiti?

Flow of money from ICE to subcontractors. Source: Hidden in Plain Sight: ICE Air and the Machinery of Mass Deportation, Center for Human Rights, University of Washington.

Deportation flights are a big business. Typically these flights are managed by ICE Air Operations – yes, ICE has its own airline. The chain of responsibility runs like this: Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is the entity responsible for deporting people. ERO oversees ICE Air Operations. ICE Air Operations owns none of its own planes. So, ICE signs a contract with a private vendor to coordinate removal flights. 

The company that has the current contract is Classic Air Charter. For managing ICE Air Operations from October 2017 through the end of September 2022, CAC’s contract is potentially worth $739 million. Classic Air Charters doesn’t actually fly the planes either – that would be too easy. No, CAC subcontracts with other carriers to operate deportation flights. The company that flies 95% of ICE Air flights this year is iAero (formerly Swift Air). Starting in August, ICE began flying too many flights for iAero to manage, and so World Atlantic Airlines was brought back in. 

Despite having this system in place, when the Biden administration made the decision to deport thousands of Haitians beginning in mid-September this year, they gave a $15.76 million, no bid contract to the GEO Group to manage the flights. 

The GEO Group is a massive government contractor that runs many of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention facilities. They also oversee much of ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program (ankle monitors). If someone is given an ankle monitor, they are probably checking in with a GEO group office – not ICE. Crazy system. The GEO Group reported $1.14 billion in income through the first half of 2021.

The one thing GEO group does not do for ICE is fly planes. At least, not until September.

Like Classic Air Charters, the GEO group did not actually fly any of these planes themselves. They subcontracted with iAero, World Atlantic, Global Crossings Airlines, and Eastern Airlines (note: this is not your parents’ Eastern Airlines, but a much smaller regional carrier operating in the Caribbean).  Between September 19 and October 7, there were 70 removal flights to Haiti involving about 7,600 people. At least 64 of these flights were under the GEO Group contract.

At the contracted rate, the GEO Group is receiving $179,000 per flight, or about $1,700 per person deported. This comes to at least $11.4 million so far. How much of that they turn over to the subcontractors is not clear. A typical ICE Air flight to Haiti would pay out $68,000 to contractors, at least at ICE Air’s published flight hour rate of $8,577 (assuming they also pay for the, usually empty, return flight). 

The dirty little secret of immigration policy is that private corporations make a lot of money engaging in this mandated cruelty. The GEO Group typically makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year in immigrant detention contracts, for example. And they get paid even when the beds are empty, due to guaranteed minimums written into their contracts. Which is to say, the story here is not that some company made money off of deporting people. That sadly happens every day with multiple flights to countries all over the world.

The question here is why ICE is paying the GEO Group to do what they are already paying Classic Air Charters to do, but at something close to 3X the rate? The answer can’t be that CAC was over capacity, as the GEO Group is basically using the same subcontractors CAC would have. And the GEO Group has no public history of managing deportation flights for ICE. The only thing different about these flights is that they are not departing from traditional ICE Air hubs, but from airports in Laredo and Harlingen, Texas. That said, both airports are part of ICE’s network – and even if not common staging areas for international flights, they have been used for this purpose before. 

So, the GEO Group is getting paid because they are a large, well connected company. Absent some compelling inside scoop suggesting otherwise, this is the only reason. Congress should be asking for more detail about this transaction.

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Removal flights to Haiti continue at a slower pace, Title 42 must be ended!

Between September 19 and October 5, the Biden administration expelled over 7,200 people to Haiti on 67 flights. Between February 1 and September 15, the Biden administration deported 2,140 people on 37 flights.

So, since taking office Biden has expelled 9,300 people to Haiti on 94 flights. Three-fourths of those expulsions have happened over the last two weeks. The Biden administration has also repatriated 400 people interdicted at sea.

Though the pace of the flights has fallen off considerably from last week, they are ongoing. What this has looked like between September 19 and October 5:

  • 67 flights total
  • 7,200 people expelled, 
  • 19% of those expelled have been children, 56% adult men, 25% adult women.

Where did these flights go?

  • 43 flights to Port-au-Prince
  • 24 flights to Cap-Haitien

Where did the flights come from?

  • 1 flight originated in Alexandria, Louisiana
  • 2 flights originated in Brownsville, Texas
  • 3 flights originated in San Antonio, Texas
  • 28 flights originated in Laredo, Texas
  • 33 flights originated in Harlingen, Texas

Immigration policy is also a big business….

  • 6 flights were flown by Global Crossing Airlines
  • 7 flights were flown by Eastern Airlines
  • 22 flights were flown by World Atlantic Airlines
  • 32 flights were flown by iAero Swift Air

Finally, the International Organization on Migration, which provides assistance to people upon their arrival in Haiti, is underfunded. People are supposed to receive 10,000 Hatiain gourde upon their arrival (about $100) to help with resettlement. A ridiculously low amount, all things considered. But IOM has been giving out 1,000 HG instead – enough, maybe, to get a bus from Cap-Haitien back home. In Port-au-Prince, people were reportedly receiving 5,000 HG with a promise of more via Mon Cash. The Biden administration had promised to provide assistance to returned individuals and families, but has not yet delivered that assistance to IOM..

The issue remains Title 42

Underlying the debacle that continues to unfold for Haitians this month, is the Biden administration’s commitment to enforcement of the Trump era policy of expelling asylum seekers under a faux public health order using “Title 42” authority. 

While we’ve had plenty to say about Title 42 over the last 18 months, the best thing said about it recently is from Harold Koh, who became the latest member of the administration to resign in disgust over Biden’s treatment of Haitians. From Koh’s resignation letter:

The current Title 42 expulsion policy applies to individuals who are already in the United States, and to whom our legal obligations under the Refugee treaties and parallel statutes have undeniably attached. Migrants who arrive at the border are not screened for fears of persecution upon return unless they affirmatively raise their fear, in what is informally known as the “shout test.” To establish that fear, the migrant show more than a reasonable possibility of fear, but must instead meet a higher “more likely than not” standard, i.e., the standard for ultimately prevailing on the merits by showing that they have at least a 51% chance of being persecuted or tortured if returned. There have also been disturbing reports that some migrants were not even told where they were being taken when placed on deportation flights, learning only when they landed that they had been returned to their home country or place of possible persecution or torture, i.e. the exact act of refoulement that is forbidden by the CAT and the Refugee Convention! In my legal opinion, as former State Department Legal Adviser and as former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the “shout test” and the higher screening standard inevitably create an unacceptably high risk that a great many people deserving of asylum will instead likely be returned to countries where they fear persecution, death, or torture.

On Haiti specifically, Koh has this to say:

Continuation of Title 42 flights to Haiti is particularly unjustifiable in light of its designation for TPS status due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that “prevent its nationals from returning safely.” TPS applies to Haitians already present in the United States as of July 30, 2021, regardless of their immigration status. The Haitian TPS designation announcement in May cited “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” And that was before the assassination of President Moïse thrust the country into even greater political instability and a devastating earthquake on August 14, 2021 and Tropical Depression Grace on August 16, 2021 further devastated the impacted area, degrading infrastructure throughout the country. Following the 2010 earthquake, the Obama Administration suspended deportations to Haiti for over a year and thereafter resumed them only on a limited basis for five additional years until 2016, when DHS found that “the situation in Haiti has improved sufficiently to permit the U.S. government to remove Haitian nationals on a more regular basis.” Yet conditions in Haiti are far worse today than they were then.

Koh’s resignation once again thrusts Biden’s commitment to Title 42 as a policy choice into the spotlight. The administration continues to insist that Title 42 is necessary – even if the practice of Title 42, at least as it has applied to Haitians, makes absolutely no sense from a public health standpoint.

Daniel Foote briefs the House Foreign Affairs Committee

The other high profile resignation from the Biden administration was Daniel Foote. Foote had been appointed by the Biden administration as a Special Envoy to Haiti shortly after Moise’s assassination. He resigned two weeks ago over a combination of disgust at the deportation policy, as well as citing his frustration with the Biden administration’s interference in the political crisis, especially the blanket support of interim (unelected) prime minister Ariel Henry.

On Thursday, Daniel Foote will brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the issues that led to his resignation. That hearing will be live-streamed. You can watch that here.


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United States loses its mind over Haitian migration yet again

Between Sunday, September 19 Thursday, September 30, the Biden administration sent at least 57 deportation flights to Haiti. That represents more than 6,000 people expelled in less than two weeks. For some perspective, over the previous 11 months, the United States had sent 37 deportation flights to Haiti. With the fiscal year ending September 30th, flights to Haiti from the United States will come to 95, making Haiti the country with the most removal flights this year other than Mexico.

The flights, and other mass removals, are in response to an large increase in Border Patrol encounters in the Del Rio sector in Texas over a two week period. People outside of Texas were made aware of this by the spectacle of close to 15,000 people camped under the bridge between the river and the Del Rio port of entry. In response to this situation, the BIden administration worked quickly to clear people out from under the bridge. Pushing half of them back into Mexico, and then quickly deporting many of the rest, as well as others captured by Border Patrol in mid-September.

Based on the response to this situation, you might be thinking that there is a real crisis with Haitain migration these days. Certainly you are being encouraged to think that. The reality is that Haitians have made up a small proportion of people encountered at the border this year. 

From October 1, 2020 to the end of August 2021, Border Patrol “encountered” 1.74 million people. Of these, 30,000 were from Haiti. That is about 1.7% of the total. Over the last two weeks, there were an additional 14,000 or so folk from Haiti encountered by Border Patrol, in a month that will see about 200,000 total encounters, that represents 7% of the total encounters for the month, and may bring the annual portion of Haitians encountered to 2.5-3% of the total.

Almost all of these encounters took place in the Del Rio sector – the crossing of choice in recent months for folk from Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba as well as the far greater numbers of folk from Central America and Mexico. Del Rio is now the second busiest CBP sector behind only the Rio Grande Valley. That so many people were detained in a relatively short period of time in September strained the system, to be sure, but it was not as though the spectacle that unfolded under and around the Del Rio bridge was necessary. The numbers were not that extraordinary by the standards set over the last 9 months. 

We really need to pause and ask why the maybe 45,000 refugees from Haiti encountered this year, out of close to 2 million people detained and/or expelled at the border overall, constitute a crisis of such enormity that common sense and due process have been set aside in such a spectacular manner leading the United States to engage in a level of cruelty unusual even by the very low standards we normally set in this regard.

And now….more Haitians are coming! 

“Hipster imperialist” zine, Vice, “broke” this story on Friday. Citing a grad student who studies Caribbean migration, Vice reports that “at least” 20,000 Haitians are currently making their way through Central America at this very moment, intent on coming to the United States. If they make it to the border the result will be a “hot mess.” Since they can’t be allowed in (politics, you know), and mass deportations could “backfire,” Biden may need to reach out to South American countries and others to stem “the flow” at the source.

This analysis was supplemented by Reuters, and then covered in The Hill. By Thursday the number of Haitians reportedly scattered between Panama and the United States border was being estimated at 80,000. Scary numbers. Right? Wrong. 

The reality is that thousands of people from Haiti have been leaving Brazil and Chile (where hundreds of thousands resettled after the 2010 earthquake) for about 7 years now. The first period of a significant increase in migration came in 2015-2016 following an economic recession in Brazil. The Obama administration, as noted above, treated them the way the United States always does – they were denied entry, and the US renewed/expanded deportations for those already here as a “deterrent.”

In both Brazil and Chile, COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact over the last 18 months, squeezing their economies which in turn has led to a squeeze on migration. Chile had already begun restricting new arrivals from Haiti – and back in January 2020 was conducting its own deportation flights to Haiti.  

As a result of border closures, Haitians (and thousands of other migrants) were held up in Panama for much of 2020, where many are again being denied entry. Haitians and others are also currently being held up near Jalapa, Nicaragua because Honduras is restricting access. WIthin Honduras, Haitians and others have been denied use of transportation. And, as we have also been reporting for months now, as many as 30,000 Haitians have been held up in Mexico, some for almost two years. 

The story here is not “20,000 Haitians on the move.” The story is that the United States has pushed its own border enforcement measures all the way back to Panama. As a result, Haitians, Cubans, Venezuelans, Pakistanis, Indians, Cameroonians, Nigerians and other “extra-continental” refugees are being targeted by regional governments, detained, and in some cases removed, long before they arrive at the US border. All of this must be understood in the context of a regional migration crisis impacting hundreds of thousands of people.

So, 20,000 Haitians or more may well arrive at the US border in the next few months. But so will 600,000 or more other people who are not from Haiti. And if the folks from Haiti arrive in larger groups, it will be because they have been detained as such along the way.

The treatment of Haitians on our border right now would NOT happen to any other group of immigrants. It’s not like Hondurans, Mexicans and Venezuelans are treated well, mind you. But Haitians are singled out for a special brand of cruelty as Haitian immigration has always been some kind of line in the sand for the US government. 

If there is any silver lining to the current mania over more Haitians arriving, it is that the administration has plenty of time to prepare to receive people humanely. Customs and Border Protection brags that they process 650,000 people every day! Certainly they can shift some resources to handle an increase of a 400-500 a day in a sector over a two week period. I mean they know they will need to have more asylum screeners on hand who speak Haitian Creole and can be ready to process people in a safe, efficient manner.  Of course they’ve already had plenty of time to do this – like 7 years to be exact – and have thus far failed.  But they will have no excuse now.

For the time being!

Keep the pressure up. Contact your members of Congress. Ask them to speak out – you can do that using our form by clicking the take action button below. And keep calling the White House [202-456-1111] with a simple message – Halt the Removals NOW!

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Del Rio: How to make 15,000 people disappear in a week

International Office on Migration details on removal flights (click to enlarge)

On Friday, September 17, there were 15,000 refugees under a bridge in Texas seeking entry into the United States. Most of them were from Haiti. A week later, they were all gone. What happened to 15,000 migrants in the space of 7 days? 

The numbers below are not precise, and, to be clear, people came and went from the camp, so likely more than 15,000 people were there at some point during the week. DHS also reports that there were 30,000 encounters in the Del Rio sector overall (including the camp), starting on September 9 to September 24. So some of the deportation and expulsion numbers reflect that reality as well.

Based on press reports and feedback from folk who have spent the week in Del Rio, this is a rough outline of what has happened to people from the camp, and others arrested by Border Patrol in the area.

Expelled to Mexico: According to Secretary Mayorkas, 8,000 people “voluntarily” returned to Mexico. “Voluntary ” in this case means being told to go back across the river or be deported back to Haiti. Mexico has been reluctant to accept Title 42 expulsions from Haiti until now, yet, received them this time. This is a reminder that Obrador refuses to say “no” to the United States on immigration no matter how abusive the request. Those “voluntarily” expelled back to Mexico were mostly bussed away from the border once there, many to Tapachula, Chiapas. Others were flown from Reynosa to Tapachula or Villahermos in Southern Mexico by Mexican immigration authorities. For those who evaded INM at the border they are now targets for arrest and detention.

Of course, many people had fled from Tapachula over the last few weeks – some after waiting months, or even years, for a decision on their asylum claims within Mexico. Unable to leave the state legally until a having received a decision from COMAR, and with no work available in Tapachula, in desperation people began leaving in large numbers at the beginning of September following a crackdown by INM and national guard on several caravans protesting conditions in Tapachula. The crisis in Tapachula was the precursor to the disaster in Del Rio. By flying and busing people back there now, the situation will simply continue to decline. 

Expelled on ICE Air Operation flights: From Sunday, September 19 to Monday, September 26 the United States flew 37 removal flights to Haiti. The flights will continue into this week and possibly beyond. The pace of flights has been so intense that ICE Air Operations began flights to Cap-Haitien in addition to Port-au-Prince, and expanded its roster of sub-contractors. iAero, the company that gets 95% of all ICE Air flights, also got the lion’s share of these flights, but World Atlantic Airline and Global Crossing Airlines were also paid for flights this week. Lest we forget, there is a lot of money in official cruelty – one reason we keep doing it.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees these flights, never gives out details. We can estimate from 32 flights that close to 3,400 people have been deported through Sunday – with 6 flights on Monday the total will be over 4,00o soon. CNN reported 1,424 on 12 flights as of Wednesday last week based on data from the International Organization on Migration office in Haiti – 40 were children who did not hold a Haitian passport). 

If Biden keeps up this pace there will be 6,000 to 7,000 people expelled to Haiti over a two week period. I cannot think of another country to receive this heavy concentration of expulsions in such a short period of time – especially considering that Haitians have made up a very small number of encounters at the border so far this year (less than 2%). 

It is reported that Mexico will begin removal flights to Haiti next week – so many of the 8,000 people expelled to Mexico may still be deported to Haiti anyway. This is “chain refoulement” and illegal under international law – but then just about everything that happened this week has been illegal under international law.

Detained while awaiting expulsion: Many of the people remaining in the United States are in detention facilities. Early in the week, Border Patrol began bussing, and flying people to other ports of entry to be held pending removal. People have been detained all along the border from Eagle Pass to Pearsall to the family holding center at Dilley. Mayorkas’ comments earlier in the week suggested as many as 6,500 people were transferred to other facilities Those not already part of the deportation total above will likely be included unless they receive support from attorneys.

As much as the bridge captured headlines, it is important to understand that Border Patrol has been encountering 6,500-7,000 people a day all summer. Most are expelled under Title 42 immediately, but because of the new strategy of flying, many of those expelled into the interior of Mexico, and many more are detained for days or weeks while awaiting flights. 

The conditions in these Border Patrol facilities are routinely horrendous. Overcrowding hasn’t helped. Reports from inside are of people who are sick, with high fevers, and not getting medical care despite attempted advocacy by attorneys.

The horrendous conditions in the camp in Del Rio, the abuse meted out by Border Patrol agents against migrants, and the horrible detention conditions has led to a civil rights complaint against DHS. The Grio summarized:

Haitian Bridge Alliance, The UndocuBlack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) and African Communities Together on Friday sent a letter of complaint…addressed to the department’s head of Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Katherine Culliton-González.

Highlighting the graphic images and video of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers on horseback hitting migrants with horse reins used as whips, the complaint accuses the department of several violations and demands that DHS stop the deportation of migrants who were either victimized by CBP or were witnesses of abuses at the border.

Some families allowed to stay: Other folk, mostly families, have been allowed to stay in the United States for now. Some have been given an order to report to immigration authorities within 60 days – others are in detention awaiting processing. Reports from attorneys in Del Rio are that the documents many people have been given are improperly filled out by Border Patrol agents and some contain no dates. This kind of sloppy care at intake is often a problem for people who later seek asylum. It is hard to believe it was unintentional. 

It is not clear how many people from Del Rio were permitted entry – thousands to be sure. In San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and Houston, families were arriving all week to temporary facilities set up mostly by volunteers, who received them and helped them along to the next phase of their journey, wherever that might be. 

According to the Washington Post, DHS officials estimated that 30,000 people were encountered overall in the Del Rio sector over the two week period starting September 9, and that of those 12,400 were allowed to request asylum or other form of protection. That said, it seems that for the 15,000 people in the camp, the majority were expelled. 

While the Associated Press (and any number of Republicans) raised concerns about these admissions undermining Biden’s “deterrent” strategy, it is worth noting that as of September 30th, Biden will not be able to expel families under Title 42 anyway. This follows a Federal court ruling blocking the practice – unless the administration wins an appeal. People allowed to stay will not be expelled any time soon. However, they still face an uphill battle to remain in the United States, as most will likely not be granted asylum in the long run.

Rough summary

If DHS encountered 30,000 people during a two week period, with about half of those ending up under the bridge in Del Rio, the break down is something like this:

12,000+ allowed to apply for asylum or other relief (almost all families w/children). Many of these people are still in detention.

8,000+ summarily expelled to Mexico

6,000 in detention waiting to be expelled – though some might be allowed to stay, certainly people are fighting for them.

4,000 already deported to Haiti as of end of the day, Monday, September 27. (I do not know how many people were expelled to other countries during the last two weeks from Del Rio or the camp specifically).

What to do!

Donate to support legal services: There are a number of groups trying to provide legal support services to those in custody. The folk we work most closely with are with the Haitian Bridge Alliance. They are amazing. You can donate to support their efforts directly here.

Continue to demand that Biden halt these deportations: Call the White House at 202-456-1111, or contact your member of Congress and ask them to speak out against the expulsions. We’ve set up a form to make that easy for you here, or click the take action button below. Following up with a phone call helps, and certainly sharing this update and the alert spreads the word.

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Haitians in Mexico face harsh conditions, discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is demonstrably not working.

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

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

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

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

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

Foote is out

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

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

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

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

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

Earthquake response

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Quixote Center denounces the Biden administration expulsion of Haitian refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

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